News
Öskudagur Is Not “Icelandic Halloween”

Öskudagur Is Not “Icelandic Halloween”

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published February 14, 2018

It may involve little kids in costumes begging for candy, but the comparisons between Halloween and Öskudagur end there.

Today is Ash Wednesday to the Catholic world at large. It is the first day of Lent, the long period of fasting leading up to Easter. In Iceland, this day is Öskudagur, literally “ashes day”, and has little to do with fasting or religion anymore.

Today, Öskudagur is characterised by the charming sight of children wandering around town in costumes. They will visit places of business and ask for candy. While this has led many people to compare the holiday to Halloween, the similarities between Halloween and Öskudagur extend no further than costumes and candy.

For one, Icelandic children are not given candy simply by asking for it; they have to earn their treats, usually with a song. For another, Halloween has its roots in a pre-Christian pagan tradition whereby late autumn was devoted to remembrance of the dead. The roots of Öskudagur are decidedly Christian, although the traditions around this day have taken different twists and turns over the generations.

Originally, children would dress up in costumes on Bolludagur, and have a parade. This was the case through the 19th century, and originated in Norway and Denmark. In 1917, the children-in-costumes aspect was moved to Öskudagur.

Another important part of Öskudagur involves the ashes themselves. As those familiar with Ash Wednesday know, part of this holiday involves attending mass, wherein a priest will make the mark of the cross on congregant’s foreheads with ashes. In Iceland, people were fond of taking these ashes with them to bless their homes, and would take some out of church in a little bag. This led to the tradition of hanging bags of ashes on people, a practice that can be traced back to the 18th century and is probably older still, which even has a gendered aspect to it: traditionally, women hang little bags of ashes on men, while men hang little bags of rocks on women.

While the ash bags tradition is almost completely gone, you will still see children wandering around downtown today, going from shop to shop to sing for candy. This is also why, as evening approaches, you will see signs hanging in numerous shop windows reading NAMMI BÚIÐ – “candy finished” – the bane of many an Icelandic child.


News
Much Better Voter Turn-Out Expected This Year In Iceland

Much Better Voter Turn-Out Expected This Year In Iceland

by

A higher voter turn-out for this Saturday’s municipal elections than in 2014 is expected, based on the volume of absentee

News
May The Storms Be With You: More Weather Alerts Issued In Iceland

May The Storms Be With You: More Weather Alerts Issued In Iceland

by

An alert has been issued today for the area of Faxaflói Bay, Breiðarfjörður and the south coast of Iceland due

News
American Couple Dies During Fishing Trip In Iceland

American Couple Dies During Fishing Trip In Iceland

by

An American couple died in Iceland yesterday after an accident occurred on Sunday at Lake Þingvallavatn in Þingvellir National Park,

News
Immigration Contradicting Itself, Breaking UN Guidelines In Trans Refugee Case

Immigration Contradicting Itself, Breaking UN Guidelines In Trans Refugee Case

by

The Directorate of Immigration (UTL) is contradicting its own policies, and appears to be breaking United Nations guidelines, when it

News
Island Life: Village Nets 100m ISK Surplus, Reykjadalur Opens & The Return Of The Tern

Island Life: Village Nets 100m ISK Surplus, Reykjadalur Opens & The Return Of The Tern

by

The tiny East Iceland village of Vopnafjörður made headlines when their bookkeeping brought to light that they have a surplus

News
Far-Right Islamophobe Cancels Trip To Iceland

Far-Right Islamophobe Cancels Trip To Iceland

by

English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson, who was scheduled to give a lecture today in Iceland, will not be coming

Show Me More!