Saturday is Iceland’s national holiday.
Yet another day filled with parades, patriotic songs and little white-haired kids waiving the blue, white and red Icelandic flag while smearing ice cream all over their new jackets.
Flags abound everywhere; lamb is being barbecued in nearly every house and songs that begin with the silly headline of this column abound.
And in the evenings, there are dances.
These are particularly fun in the countryside, where people tend to need more of an excuse to doll up and go out to paint whatever comes their way red, and as a result, paint everything scarlet.
Icelanders took this day as their national day in 1944, but it is the birthday of the man who has long been celebrated as they key figure in Icelanders’ independence struggle.
National hero Jón Sigursson (1811-1879) was the most prominent leader in the early independence struggle with Denmark.
In the first decades of the 19th century, in the wake of the political movement to the south in Europe, national sentiment began to stir among Icelanders who, by then, belonged to the Danes.
Icelanders began to renew their interest in their history and earlier Icelandic literature, and soon began to call for the restoration of the parliament, Althing, which had been abolished in 1800, as well as for national independency.
Being Icelanders, poets participated actively in the struggle, and some of Iceland’s most beautiful patriotic songs stem from this era.
Althing was restored in 1843 as a consultative assembly.
In 1874, Icelanders gained a constitution of their own. The event caused the first national holiday to be given, and thousands of Icelanders gathered on Thingvellir, the old site of Althing, in August of that year.
Over the next few years, the influence of Althing grew slowly but steadily.
In 1904, Iceland was granted home-rule, meaning that the nation got a minister who resided in Iceland.
In 1918, Iceland obtained its sovereignty, although it retained its allegiance to the Danish crown. Icelanders established their own flag, but Denmark continued to represent Icelandic foreign affairs and defence interests.
The struggle continued and, in the year 1944, a referendum about the link to Denmark was held.
Few nations have seen such electoral outcome: 97.86 per cent of eligible voters cast their vote on the issue, with 97.36 per cent voting to end the laws maintaining the connection to the Danish crown.
It helped that at this time, Denmark was occupied by Germans, and Icelanders therefore became doubly interested in assuming control over their own territorial waters and foreign affairs.
In the wake of the referendum, the republic was established at Thingvellir on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson (1881-1952) accepting the post as the new republic’s first president.
The day, as said above, was chosen in honour of Jón Sigursson, and Icelanders have celebrated it ever since with all the ice cream eating, parades, brass music, street theatre, sideshows, dancing, poetry reading and speeches that befit such a day.
If you’ve been reading my columns lately, and have concluded that Icelanders are masters of holidays, here’s one thing we could learn from Canadians.
National holidays that fall on a weekend, like this year’s 17 of June, do not give citizens the next Monday off, like they do in Canada.
It’s simply tough luck for those who don’t work these days.
Those who do work these days, such as police officers and nurses, get double pay, but no extra time off.
I think I might act as a true Canadian and write someone a letter regarding this matter.
Meanwhile, happy June 17!