17th of June is Iceland's independence day. Iceland gained independence from Denmark in the year 1944.
Iceland lost its independence way back in 1262, when it became a part of the Norwegian crown but it later became a Danish colony in 1380.
The date of Iceland's independence, 17th of June, was chosen as it was the birthdate of Jón Sigurðsson, who fought hard for Iceland to gain independence, although he was not around when it finally came. So happy birthday to Jón!
On this day in 1944, a celebration took place at Þingvellir, where Iceland's Althing was formed in 930.
Jón is often referred to as 'Jón president' - even though he was never president of Iceland. Iceland has in fact only had 6 presidents so far: Sveinn Björnsson, Ásgeir Ásgeirsson, Kristján Eldjárn, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and the current one; Guðni Th Jóhannesson.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the first elected female head of state in the world when she became president in 1980. She served for 16 years, until 1996 and is to date still one of the most popular and celebrated persons in Iceland.
Guðni took office on the 1st of August 2016, and has so far been a very popular president. The First Lady of Iceland is writer and entrepreneur Eliza Reid, originally from Canada.
Guðni has gained a reputation for being just a regular and friendly guy. One of the first things he did after being sworn as the president was to give a speech during the Reykjavík Pride festival, the first president in the world to publicly attend an LGBTQ pride festival. He was also spotted attending a Rammstein concert, he caused a stir when he said he'd ban pineapple on pizza when asked what he'd ban if he could and he gave a couple of kids a ride back home from a swimming pool since he had the time to do so. Before becoming the president of Iceland he worked as a historian.
During Independence Day there are some celebrations happening around the country. In Reykjavík there are a few parades, playgrounds for kids with bouncy castles and games to play, pop-up stalls selling cotton candy, helium balloons and hot dogs as well as music, circus and dance entertainments on stages across the centre of town.
Each year one woman is selected to be the 'Lady of the Mountain', that serves as the female incarnation of Iceland, a national symbol of sorts. She dresses in the national costume and leads the parade, before reading a poem by the statue of Jón Sigurðsson at Austurvöllur square, where the parade ends. This role normally goes to some local and respected actress, but in 2018 it's going to Gógó Starr, Iceland's most famous drag queen. This makes me really happy, and I hope is a sign of more inclusion of the LGBTQ community.
If the weather is nice, the city centre gets filled with people and there is generally a pretty nice atmosphere around town. However, Independence Day has in recent years become more centred around entertainment for young children, and in my personal opinion too centred around the commercial selling of hot dogs, ice-cream and entry to bouncy castles. There always used to be an impressive evening live music line-up in the centre of the city, with free entrance, that is all but gone.
The saviour of good music line-up in recent years has been the Secret Solstice music festival, however not with free entry. In 2017, as well as in 2016, the independence day celebrations coincided with Secret Solstice festival. In 2016 I enjoyed listening to the amazing music by Radiohead on independence day and in 2017 I celebrated independence day by dancing like crazy to The Prodigy. In 2018 the Secret Solstice festival takes place the following weekend after independence day.
This year the Icelandic independence day vibe is being saved by Iceland's tie with Argentina in the World Cup that happened the day before! Icelanders will be celebrating that for the rest of the week!
In recent years, Culture Night that takes place on the third Saturday of August has become more of the unofficial national celebration in Reykjavík, when dozens of thousands of people flock downtown to enjoy free entertainment all over the city in the form of dance, theatre, music, prose, waffles and much more.
Another multidisciplinary festival worth checking out this year is the inaugural Reykjavík Fringe Festival, taking place from July 4th until July 8th, all over town and with plenty of shows in the English language.
I will still head out to town during independence day, although I'll be spending the day indoors at Tjarnarbíó independent theatre at a pop-up clothes selling fleamarket before having a stroll around town. Here you can find the full schedule of activities during Iceland's independence day.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a tradition that it rains on Iceland's independence day. And according to the weather forecast, this year will be no different, so make sure you dress according to the weather.
Another unfortunate thing that happened in 2017, for the first time in Icelandic history, is that the police decided to be visibly armed during the Independence Day celebrations. The Icelandic police force is not normally armed, but was visibly armed during the Colour Run in downtown Reykjavík in June 2017 and then they said they would be visibly armed wherever there are large gatherings of people. This was said to be in response to then-recent terrorist attacks in other European cities.
I'm not certain if they have continued with this approach, but if they have, it saddens me.
This has generated conflict of opinions amongst Icelanders, with some people supporting the decision of the police, but I believe the majority of Icelanders are not happy about this decision. I am one of those that's not happy with this decision, as I'd like to be able to walk the streets of Reykjavík without ever needing to see a firearm. The presence of firearms does not make me feel safer, on the contrary, it makes me feel very uneasy and feel it may spark more violence.
As a supervisor from the Icelandic police said in an interview some years ago: “If regular officers in Iceland start carrying guns, it’s only a matter of time before we see a gunfight in Reykjavík.”
A protest against visible guns on Icelandic police officers took place at 11:00 in the morning of Independence Day 2017. This was a peaceful protest outside the Icelandic parliament, at Austurvöllur, called Fokk the Glock (or, fuck the Glock). I hope it made enough of an impact for the police to go back to not carrying arms.
On a lighter note, I hope everyone coming to Iceland for Independence Day will have a great time, and if you really want to fit in with the locals then you should learn the chorus to the above song, as you're sure to hear someone sing it out on the streets.
But perhaps it's good for you to know that people mostly celebrate the previous night, as they are sure to have the day off on Independence Day.
So if you want to check out the famous Icelandic nightlife, then going out on the 16th of June is a great idea!