From Iceland — Words Of Interest: Bolla, Bolla, Bolla!

Words Of Interest: Bolla, Bolla, Bolla!

Published January 27, 2017

Words Of Interest: Bolla, Bolla, Bolla!
Photo by
Eunsan Huh

Iceland is a country full of wonderful and often quirky traditions. In December, the Yule Lads come down from the mountains to steal various household objects and leftover scraps. In January, the elves, or huldufólk (translated literally, “hidden people”) come out to dance and party on Þrettándinn. And in February, there is the most delicious holiday of all: Bolludagur, otherwise known as Bun Day.

Bolludagur is celebrated on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. On the morning of Bolludagur, children go around smacking their parents’ bums with a colourful wands or paddles while saying “bolla, bolla, bolla!”, which means “bun, bun bun!” They are rewarded with cream puffs—one for each spanking. It seems a bit peculiar, but it’s great fun nevertheless.

Bolludagur originated in Denmark, where it is called Fastelavn. Fastelavn is a less bun-specific holiday, but they do eat a similar cream puff-esque pastry called Fastelavnsbolle. The tradition is thought to have been brought over to Iceland some time in the 19th century as a religious festivity, but over time, it has morphed into the spritely holiday we know and love today.

The buns are made with fluffy choux pastry and filled with sweet cream and jam, then dusted with powdered sugar or coated in chocolate. It is estimated that over one million cream buns will be produced in Iceland in celebration of Bolludagur. That’s three buns for every Icelander!


Every Single Word in Icelandic is a pictographic exploration of the Icelandic language. I find an interesting compound word, then deconstruct and illustrate it as icons. The goal is to express how Icelandic can be deadpan literal and unexpectedly poetic at the same time.

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