What is the reason for celebrating your lover in late winter?
Perhaps it’s an attempt to lift the dreariness of winter, perhaps it has some ancient religious meaning.
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that while Canadians have Valentine’s Day, Icelanders have Husband’s Day (or in direct translation, Farmers’ Day), and then, a few weeks later, Women’s Day — with little connection to the International Women’s Day on March 8.
This year, Icelanders’ celebrated Bóndadagur, Husband’s Day, on January 19.
The day is set on the first day of Thorri, one of the old Icelandic names for the months, marking the fourth, and often the harshest, month of winter.
It always falls on a Friday.
In the old days, the man of the house was to run a lap around the house in his long johns — or fatherland, as Icelanders call that piece of clothing — and in some places, it was up to the husband to treat others on this day.
Both traditions have largely disappeared.
The day is not an official holiday, so the husbands have to work that day as others, but in this day and age, wives and girlfriends go out of their way to do something nice for their men, give them flowers or chocolate, make them breakfast, take them to a movie or give them a present.
(This way of celebrating the day is a fairly new tradition in Iceland; some suspect it is the invention of flower sellers.)
Then, on February 19, Women’s Day comes around.
This day falls on the first day of Góa, the fifth month of winter but also the first month that reminds you of spring, because of the returning light. Interestingly, Thorri impersonated is winter, and Góa is his daughter.
The first day of Góa always falls on a Sunday.
Though probably an older tradition than Husband’s Day, the celebration of Women’s Day is similar.
Men bring their wives or girlfriends their morning coffee to bed, and nowadays, most men buy flowers, many invite their lovers out for supper or cook the family dinner.
In the olden days, better food was offered both on Husbands’ and Women’s days, though it was by far much better on Husband’s Day.
There are probably two reasons for this, which have nothing to do with gender equity.
The first is that by Thorri, the pantry may still have held quite a bit left of goodies from the fall, making a small feast easier to accommodate.
The second one is that by Góa, the fast prior to Easter is nearing, and that fast was tediously followed in many households.
Some households offered the month Góa some red wool, probably with the hope of it bringing milder weather. However, most hoped for bad weather on Women’s Day.
If the weather on this day is pretty awful, the summer will be pleasant, according to old beliefs.
And no, in the olden days, the women did not have to run around the house in their knickers. Don’t ask me why — it could be a gender inequity issue.
On the other hand, Valentine’s Day has not existed in Iceland — until American movies and television became more popular.
Now, flower merchants and other businesses have begun to make use of the knowledge Hollywood has brought to Icelandic youth.
(Heck, even Halloween has begun to make it’s way into Icelandic children’s and teenagers’ lives, despite the fact we’ve got our own version of that festival in early spring! Though I suspect flower sellers are innocent of that tradition’s invasion …)
Whatever the reasons for these days, they are a splendid idea — like any idea that allows one to celebrate love and lovers, eh?
Finally, a few words on the International Women’s Day.
This day is a much more political day than the Icelandic Women’s Day.
The International Women’s Day occurs on March 8 annually and is marked by women’s groups around the world.
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in Germany, Austria, Denmark and a few other European countries.
Apparently, German women chose the day because on this date in 1848 the Prussian king, faced with an armed uprising, had promised many reforms, including an unfulfilled one granting women the right to vote.
Now, most countries in the world celebrate the day in one way or another — Iceland included.