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The Big Misunderstanding Behind Sprengidagur

The Big Misunderstanding Behind Sprengidagur

Alice Demurtas
Words by
Photos by
Timothee Lambrecq
Bragi H/Wikimedia Commons
Alpha/Creative Commons

Published February 13, 2018

We hope you still have space in your belly after yesterday’s cream puffs, because today Icelanders celebrate Sprengidagur, which literally means “bursting day.” Or so you’ve been told, right?

In truth, this whole translation was either a big misunderstanding or, more likely, one really has to admire Icelanders’ humour as they turned a seemingly boring Catholic holiday into something fun for everybody. Let us explain.

Stuff your face

Most people think that Sprengidagur is simply the equivalent of Mardi Gras without the freaky costumes. Therefore, it marks another day in the Catholic calendar where people stuff their faces with rich, fatty food until they are about to burst in order to stock up on calories before the obligatory fasting during Lent, when people don’t eat meat in remembrance of Jesus’s 40 food-free days in the desert.

Sprengidagur with a twist

Although most Icelanders aren’t Catholic and they most certainly wouldn’t fast for 40 days, they do love a good buffet. That’s probably why Icelanders pretend not to know that the word “Sprengidagur” has nothing to do with bursting but most likely comes from the German word “sprengen,” which was implemented into Norwegian before arriving to Iceland.

Funnily enough, the word was used to refer to the European custom of sprinkling holy water on congregations during mass. According to the Yearbook of The Icelandic Archeological Society, published in 1981, however, “the practice of sprinkling holy water onto people, animals, food, houses and meadows was forbidden in the 16th century.” Later on people possibly began making an exception on Sprengidagur when holy water began to be more accessible, and families started following the custom of blessing a meal before eating.

Salted meat and yellow beans

Whichever story you choose to believe, there is no reason why you shouldn’t join the collective Sprengidagur craze. Eating the typical diet of salted meat (possibly horse) is a must, as well as split peas. As far as traditional Icelandic food, the menu on Sprengidagur is actually rather tasty. If you can’t be bothered to boil the meats and veggies yourself, Perlan’s restaurant Út í Bláinn offers salted meat and split peas (accompanied by a rhubarb crumble for dessert) for only 2990 ISK. Happy Sprengidagur!


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