Öskudagur 2019: Ash Wednesday In Reykjavik - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Öskudagur 2019: Ash Wednesday In Reykjavik

Published March 6, 2019

First there comes Bolludagur, then there comes Sprengidagur and finally the pre-Lent celebrations come to a close with Öskudagur.
Known on the Christian Calendar as Ash Wednesday, the holiday takes on an entirely new meaning in Iceland and if you find yourself wandering the streets of Reykjavik today then you may be in for a big surprise.

Many people describe Öskudagur (literally translated to Ashes Day) as being “Icelandic Halloween” however this comparison is generally unfair as the two holidays only share a visual similarity. The holiday has lost much of its traditional meaning in Iceland and is today celebrated by children who will dress up in costume to obtain candy from the various shops and business’ of the city. Candy is not so easily obtained on Öskudagur as it is on Halloween though and you certainly won’t be hearing the phrase “Trick or Treat” being yelled out. Rather than simply knock on doors, Icelandic children will be expected to sing songs for their candy.

Singing for candy was not always the case for this holiday though. In the past, the holiday would certainly have been celebrated more closely to its Christian roots, with people attending church services to receive the cross of ashes on their foreheads. There was another facet to this tradition, though, that saw it be used as a way for one to express their love and admiration for someone in secrecy. Young women would obtain small bags of ashes that they would attempt to secretly pin onto the backs of a young man who had garnered their affections, preferably without them noticing. Young men would then, in turn, try to pin small bags of pebbles to the backs of the young women who tickled their fancy.

No matter how you decide to celebrate this fantastic day one thing is for certain. If you go out to Reykjavik today, you’re sure for a big surprise!

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