Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Last day of winter

Today is the last day of winter here in Iceland and tomorrow the first day of summer. Which makes sense. This year the last day of winter coincides with my son's birthday and we are expecting guests that are happily for me bringing the birthday cake. Left to my own devices it would have been a Betty Crocker birthday. But seeing that I was working today and will be entertaining this evening I am going to recycle the post of exactly one year ago which regards the last day of summer and old Icelandic month names.
From last year:  
Tomorrow is the first day of summer here in Iceland, a day so revered that it is a national holiday. Come to think about it, it might actually be the other way around, it is probably revered because it is a day off. Unfortunately this year around it coincides with another public holiday, namely Skírdagur or Maundy Thursday – the day of the last supper. A two for one in the worst possible sense. Please note that I have to take the foreign ministry‘s word for the English translation of this religious holiday as I got it off a list of official translations, I have never heard this term before and cannot comment on the meaning of Maundy. Sounds like something depressing.

Today I tried to get to the bottom of why we chose such a strange day to mark the first day of summer. It is always celebrated on the first Thursday following the 18th of April, when it is still miserable outside and spring has even yet to arrive. Apparently in the old times Iceland only had two seasons – winter and summer and the first day of summer was decided to coincide with the first day of month Harpa (meaning harp) –the first day of winter landing on the first day of month Gor (Gormánuður) in what we now approximately call October. The translation of Gor is not exactly as nice as for Harpa, it means the half digested stomach contents of slaughtered animals. Why this deserved having a month named after it is beyond me, who knows maybe Maundy means something as absurd.

Other months of yore bear names that are just as strange. Mörsugur is one, translated verbatim it means Fat-sucking. I am really happy my birthday is not the 24th of Fat-sucking month. A further two wexamples are Einmánuður and Tvímánuður, meaning One month and Two month respectively, they do not follow each other and no one knows what these numbers refer to.

So we had some hail today, then some sun and now lots of wind. Sample weather as it is called here. If it freezes during the night, supposedly we are in for a good summer according to old wisdom – the freezing together of summer and winter. The late evening has all the makings of exactly this occurence so things are looking good up here in the north.

It is however a bit worrying that no one has really been able to say with any certainity what counted as a „good“ summer to our forfathers here. Considering what they considered appropriate names for months it could be anything.
Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. And a very happy, not so maundy birthday to your son this year!

  2. I love Wikipedia. The last sentence proves, if proof were necessary, that everyone is free to contribute. Despite being told often they a word cannot be defined by the same word, they did it anyway. The last sentence is a winning example.

    "The day has also been known in English as Shere Thursday (also spelled Sheer Thursday), from the word shere (meaning "clean" or "bright").[34] This name might refer to the act of cleaning, or to the fact that churches would switch liturgical colors from the dark tones of Lent, or because it was customary to shear the beard on that day,[35] or for a combination of reasons.[36] This name is a cognate to the word still used throughout Scandinavia, such as Swedish "Skärtorsdag", Danish "Skærtorsdag", Norwegian "Skjærtorsdag", Faroese "Skírhósdagur" and "Skírisdagur" and Icelandic "Skírdagur". Skär in Swedish is also an archaic word for wash.

    Others theorize that the English name "Maundy Thursday" arose from "maundsor baskets" or "maundy purses" of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. Thus, "maund" is connected to the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg.[37][38] A source from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod likewise states that, if the name was derived from the Latin mandatum, we would call the day Mandy Thursday, or Mandate Thursday, or even Mandatum Thursday; and that the term "Maundy" comes in fact from the Latin mendicare, Old French mendier, and English maund, which as a verb means to beg and as a noun refers to a small basket held out by maunders as they maunded.[39]"

  3. Um, I hope your son has a good birthday, and your summer gets a little warmer ;) Languages are so much fun and so interesting.

  4. wonderful piece...hello to all!