Features 1 minute 28 March 2024

Celebrating Easter in Iceland

Explore Icelandic Easter traditions, from food and drink to games and culture

With spring knocking at the door and the Easter weekend upon us, we take a look at how the different Nordic countries choose to celebrate the occasion as, although they have a lot in common, each has its own unique culture and traditions.

Icelanders look forward to a five-day national holiday at Easter, from Maundy Thursday through to Easter Monday. Many families take this opportunity to go on holiday or to attend the famous ski festival and the ‘Aldrei fór ég Suður’ music festival, which both take place in the town of Ísafjörður, in the Westfjords.

They also celebrate the coming of spring by adorning their homes with yellow and green decorations; a popular custom is to put branches in a vase of water and watch for the sprouting leaves. Lamb is the dish of choice on Easter Sunday – and this is a country that has good quality lamb. Leg is the most popular cut, often accompanied by sugar-glazed potatoes and gravy.

Maundy Thursday remains a popular day to be confirmed, however, secular confirmations now often take the place of religious ones, with a vow taken to lead a moral life. Traditionally, fun and festivities on Good Friday and Easter Sunday were illegal – and you’ll find that many bars and clubs close at midnight for 24hrs on Maundy Thursday and again on Easter Sunday. Cultural events such as theatre productions and concerts are allowed, and you’ll find a group of protesting atheists playing bingo on Austurvöllur in downtown Reykjavik.

Chocolate Easter eggs are a big thing in Iceland, and as soon as Christmas is over, chocolate companies set about crafting these particularly sweet treats. They come in various sizes, from 2 to 10; are topped with fluffy chicks or cartoon characters; and are always wrapped in plastic. Inside are a range of Icelandic sweets ranging from filled chocolates through to caramel balls, liquorice or jelly beans, along with an all-important Icelandic proverb or saying. Over 1 million of these páskaeggs are made in time for Easter – that’s over three times the country’s population!

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