Icelanders, particularly teenage Icelanders, celebrate the early fall long weekend slightly differently than Canadians.
First of all, it’s this first weekend in August, rather than around the time school begins.
(May I ask, where does that idea come from, anyway, eh? To have kids with bigger hangovers than they believed their fathers’ could get, start university right after Labour Day, the largest party weekend of the year? It’s always astounded me, a sensible European….)
Second of all, it’s not actually Labour Day.
Labour Day is on December 1 in Iceland, as in much of the world.
This long weekend is meant to celebrate tradespeople, sales clerks and commercial workers — those who work in retail and grocery stores.
But this weekend is a special one in Iceland, and has been for more than a century.
Very large festivals are held, some with the focus on the family, while others are music festivals mainly intended for young people.
These festivals have a long tradition in Iceland.
The one that is held each year in the Vestmann Islands, off the south coast of Iceland, has been celebrated nearly continuously since the year 1874, the year Icelanders first received their own constitution.
But the day was not fixed to begin with.
In Reykjavík, the capital, the first festivities to celebrate the day off for tradespeople were held on the September 13th, 1894.
Tradespeople marched several kilometres from downtown Reykjavík to the site of the festivities, where they listened to speeches and participated in various fun things until evening, when they all walked back again.
It was not until 1931 that Tradespeople Day was fixed on the Monday following the first weekend of August in the city of Reykjavík.
Around the middle of last century, young people, regardless of their professions, started the tradition of gathering to celebrate that day, though very rarely in Reykjavík.
Over the years, the festivals became both more plentiful and with larger groups in attendance, and with these youth gatherings come all sorts of evils — drinking, violence, rapes, accidents, drunk driving and drugs.
Older people become increasingly worried as the weekend nears and the media fills with opinion pieces on the issue.
Likewise, this is not new.
Ever since the year 1952 (and likely much sooner), older people complained about the rowdy gatherings young people held on this particular weekend, where youth ingested alcoholic beverages in too-large amounts and had violent group-fights, according to the news writers, editors and letter-writers.
Each year, the drinking and disorderliness is said to be worse than the year before.
One may smile a bit at all these reactionary “adults” being concerned about the youth for one weekend of the year, but without coming up with any lasting solution, there is a real cause to worry.
Regardless of the sometimes ossified opinions that folks with very little contact with youth express in the media, the negative part of this weekend is very real — the teenage drinking and the troubles that follow.
One of them is young women passing out and being raped.
Young women seek medical and police assistance due to rape more often over this weekend than at any other time over the year.
But now we have young men fighting this problem.
For the past four years running, a group of 15 to 20 young men have declared war on rape.
The Male Group of the Icelandic Feminist Association publishes very catching advertisements and opens up a discussion of the problem among their peers.
“We activate men in the fight against rapes and get them to pause and think what they can do to stop rapes,” said Gísli Hrafn Atlason, member of the group in a newspaper interview prior to this weekend last year.
At the time, the group stood outside a liquor store and handed out T-shirts, posters, badges and Frisbees, all which said, “Men say no to rapes.”
They also handed these out at bus stops, airports, ferry terminals and at gas stations.
And long into the winter, one could see young men wearing these T-shirts and badges.
Gísli Hrafn stressed that many more people assisted them in their fight:
“We first and foremost mean to reach young men. In most cases, they take us well, and even better every year. Many people also come to us and thank us for what we’re doing. Just a minute ago, I even got a great hug from a worried grandmother.
“This is, of course, the time many parents are very worried about their teenagers, but our fight is aimed at a worry-free weekend for the parents,” he said.
Last year, eye-catching ads were hung on bus stops and other public places, with pointed messages.
A young, very handsome and smiling man posed on one of the posters, and across it was written something along the lines of: “Rapist? Do you really want your friends to know?”
Whether this was the reason or not, not one single rape was reported last Tradespeople Day weekend 2005.
Hopefully, this will be the case this year as well.
This year, the group’s effort appears to be a little smaller, but whether that’s because of funding or what, I do not know.
However, their efforts are still far from being gone from people’s minds — as can be seen by all the young men wearing the T-shirts again now.
And many people, parents and others, bless them for their efforts and hope they’ll continue this battle for at least the next few years.