Joy comes from unexpected places in the north of Iceland, as 2011 recently gave way to what is rumoured by Hollywood filmmakers and Mayans alike to be our last year on earth. Overlooking the beautiful city of Akureyri from across Eyjafjörður as fireworks lit up the frosty night and spread their smoke southwards towards the valley, pessimism about the coming 2012 was the last thing on my mind.
I arrived in Reykjavík five months ago as an exchange student, and accompanied my dad up north to experience the New Year in an inspiring, more frozen and less familiar setting. Iceland—and Akureyri in particular—has a reputation for no-holds-barred firework displays. As an Englander, firework displays have never been truly awesome for me: warning signs and barriers are all too common in England and tend to spoil the fun, yet fortunately in Iceland they are almost taboo.
Akureyri’s public bonfire attracts 4–5 thousand of its 17.000 population a year, at which kids run freely and excitedly up to the dazzling fire and handheld sparklers are thrown playfully around. The beauty is that nobody seems to care, nor does anyone need to be told what the limit is; maybe Icelanders just have more common sense than the English. All this leads to a fantastic, all-inclusive party as the clock strikes midnight and the small city erupts in volume and presence—a party that, however ironically, the volunteer search and rescue organisations rely upon for their annual funding. I do not suggest that these organisations had no safety presence this year; they merely, very refreshingly, know when to let a party continue without interfering, for they no doubt want to party themselves.
So New Year’s joy is underscored by charitable funding and a relaxed attitude, giving an added excuse for a blowout. So what? Charity should make you feel happy. What’s less common is when electrical companies and governments get in on the act too.
Brostu Með Hjartanu (Smile With The Heart) gives awards to groups that make an effort to be upbeat since the economic crash, one of which has gone to Rafeyri, Becromal and Norðurorka’s glowing heart that overlooks Akureyri. Inside the city, traffic lights were given a heart by the government to give people something to smile about while waiting at crossings (disappointingly, the same strategy has been deemed illegal in Reykjavík). Over at the Westfjords, from the site of 1995’s avalanche, a giant smile beams protection over Flateyri.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I see some optimism from the north that wants to be built upon this year. Until the next solstice, the days can only get longer. Happy New Year and a warm 2012.