The beginning of next week is far more exciting than you suppose.
Monday is Bun Day. Tuesday is Explosion Day and Wednesday is Ash Day in Iceland.
These days are geared towards eating and beating and teasing.
But eating what and beating whom? And what sort of teasing?
Well, let’s look at them one by one.
Bun Day falls on the Monday in the seventh week before Easter — between February 2 and March 8.
Its name is derived from the eating of sweet buns, a tradition that arrived in Iceland late in the 19th century, along with the habit of children spanking their parents awake with colourful sticks.
In fact, playschool and elementary school children decorate wooden sticks at school with coloured paper boas and bring home in time for the mass parent beating that occurs early Monday morning.
The tradition says that the number of times a child manages to hit a parent is the same number of buns that child is allowed to eat that day.
(This actually doesn’t quite work in reality. Once, I remember spanking my mother 49 times, but I was only allowed three buns.)
The buns are probably a Nordic recipe, made of white flour, sprinkled with sugar or covered with chocolate glaze, and eaten with whipped cream or jam.
Despite the name Explosion Day, Tuesday is somewhat more reserved.
On this day, all company lunchrooms are filled with the scent of salted Icelandic lamb — the fatter, the better — and yellow-pea soup.
And, as the name suggests, you are to eat as much of this gourmet meal as you can, or until you explode.
This day always falls on a Tuesday in the seventh week before Easter. The meat fest probably has its roots in Roman-Catholicism, as it is the day before lent, during which meat is proscribed.
Needless to say, more adults than kids look forward to Explosion Day, whose name stems from the 18th century, if not earlier.
Ash Day is always the Wednesday in the seventh week before Easter, the first day of fast in Catholicism.
The name stems from the old habit of sprinkling ash on top of praying sinners’ heads in the church, or the making of a cross on their foreheads.
The first recorded use of the name is from the middle of the 14th century, but it is likely somewhat older.
Nowadays, kids make ash bags, which are made of colourful cloth.
In the old days, they contained ash but lately they are simply empty.
Then they are fastened to a bent pin and secretly hung on people’s clothing.
In many parts of the country, kids also dress up like they do on Halloween in Canada, and go downtown to “beat the cat out of the barrel.”
Many municipalities supply a large, wooden barrel with a live cat and the kids gather around and beat the barrel to pieces….
The barrel only contains candy, no cats.
This custom stems from the Nordic countries, and whether the Danes ever used a real cat, as the name suggests, I don’t know.
The story goes that’s how it used to be, but later, it’s supposed to have contained a dead cat or a dead raven.
But nowadays, it’s only candy. I swear.
Finally, after a lot of kids have hit the barrel very, very many times, it explodes like a Mexican piñata.
The kids get candy and the Icelandic cats are safe and sound.
Typical Bun Day buns:
200 g white flour
125 g butter
5 teaspoons dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
100 ml water
Mix the butter with the flour and sugar, add the yeast. In another bowl, whip egg and water, and pour into flour. Spoon out large drops on a baking sheet and let it lift at room temperature for half an hour.
Bake at 199°F for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve when lukewarm or cold, cut open and add jam and whipped cream in the centre.
The recipe yields about 15 to 20 buns.
Water dough buns — similar to French puff pastry:
1.2 cups water
75 grams butter/margarine
175 grams flour
Boil water and butter together in a pot. Then add the flour and stir until the dough shines and loosens from the pot. Cool the dough. When cool, add the eggs one at a time. Use a spoon to make little buns (they can be of any size) and put on oven plate.
Bake on 204°C for 25 to 40 minutes. Remember DO NOT open the oven the first 15 minutes, otherwise the buns will fall.
When the buns are fully baked, slice them into two halves, put jam on the bottom and add whipped cream. Then add the upper half and finally poor either melted chocolate or icing on top.
Bon appetite! Or rather, Verdi ykkur adgódu!