Everyone will tell you that the reason “Þjóðhátíð” (literally, “national celebration”) is held in the Westman Islands every year is that back in 1874, when King Christian of Denmark came to present Iceland with a new constitution at Þingvellir, he was unable to make it due to bad weather, and have been compensating ever since. Less well known is Reykjavik’s own attempt at celebration.
Over 1400 people (out of a total of 2000 residents) gathered on Öskjuhlíðin on that day in 1874. Time had been spent clearing away stones and setting up tents and flagpoles. Festivities included speeches, singing, the playing of instruments (a rarity in those days), and of course, a bout of Icelandic wrestling, or glíma.
Two things, however, brought a damper on the day. The wind was blowing fiercely and kicked up so much dust that many were forced to head homewards long before the event was over. To make matters worse, a couple of Danish naval officers who were to set off salutary gunshots injured themselves badly in the process.
Iceland did get its new constitution, which you can see commemorated by the statue of Christian IX holding it out in front of the Cabinet House today. But Öskjuhlíðin was never again used for national celebrations.
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