Grapevine’s guide to Yr. Ultimate Holiday Bender
December is by far the darkest and spookiest month. It is also the booziest, by far. The overwhelming joy one often associates with the annual Christmas frenzy increases the longing for a nightcap, the fright that correlates with mass expenditures in gifts and other holiday nonsense calls for some alcohol, and when you intend to bid farewell to the passing year you’ll want a bottle of liquor by your side. It seems there’s no avoiding dipping your toes (or your entire foot) into the tantalizing Jacuzzi of holiday vice. For this reason, behold: Grapevine’s guide to your Icelandic holiday binge drinking!
The Icelandic state-run liquor stores open late and close early. It gets worse over the holidays. So make a visit to your neighbourhood Vínbúð early (even if you bought up your quota at the duty free). Purchase in bulk. More than you think you’ll need. You’ll thank us later.
And so it begins…
The first proper day of hardcore holiday debauchery is Þorláksmessa. The rambling begins at noon, when families and friends gather to feast on rotted skate, which smells so foul that you’ll have to drown the pungent taste in a whole lot of Brennivín to survive. The fun continues through the day, usually ending in an uncontrollable frenzy at the local bars (unless you’re, like, a super responsible family person).
The funny part of all this is that Þorláksmessa is also the day when folks finalize their Xmas shopping. This pairing, it’s no match made in heaven. The only reason bars are open on the 24th from noon ’til 2pm is so that unfortunates can pick up their left-behind presents. So my advice is: find a local and convince him to invite you for rotted skate. If that doesn’t work out, find a restaurant that serves the horrendous dish and report for duty at the bars in the evening.
Your Second Day Of Depravity
You might not recognize “Second in Christmas” as part of any holiday schedule. This is because we made it up. So we could get shitfaced. See, Christmas day is usually spent on family gatherings. This family stupor generally lasts until midnight of December 26th, when the bars remove the chains from their doors. Be aware that the bars only open at midnight, and (this year) they close at 04:30 in the morning, so you’ll have to try and imbibe as much alcohol as possible in the space of four-and-a-half-hours. In light of this, it might not come as a surprise that the average bar sales are usually greater in those few hours than on a regular 8pm-6am night.
After a bunch of after-partying, you’ll probably end up draining your holiday booze stash. But, don’t worry, Vínbúð opens up again, so you can re-stock.
The messy finale
Now we’re finally there, New Year’s Eve. The craziest night of the year.
The first thing you have to do is to rid yourself of all expectation, ‘cause you might get disappointed. A lot of the locals tend to stay away from clubs and bars on this particular night, as they like to charge crazy admission fees and raise their drink prices, but those locals tend to be wrong. If you’re visiting, I’d recommend you score a ticket to one of those New Year’s celebrations, as they’re pretty great despite everything. However, if you get invited to a local party, definitely go for it.
To get your NYE off to a proper start, it’s smart to head on up to Perlan or Hallgrímskirkja on Skólavörðuholt to observe the ludicrous fireworks display (and fire up a few yourself). This will give you an excellent chance to to mingle with some crazy Icelanders who are probably planning a 24-hour party.
Whatever you do, though, don’t go to sleep. Things won’t heat up until around 8am, and if you play it right you won’t remember anything at all when you eventually wake up after you eventually go to sleep. You won’t recognize where you are and you won’t recall anything that happened. This is a good thing. It’s the reason why it will be, in your memory, the craziest night of the year.
A version of this article originally appeared in Reykjavík Grapevine issue 18, 2009. It has been updated accordingly.