A parade files down the streets of Reykjavik as onlookers watch from the sidewalks and open windows of the buildings nearby. It’s National Day in Iceland, the annual celebration of the country’s independence. Festival activities are scattered across the city center; shopping, eating, and merry-making have taken over. By evening time, fireworks go off—though the sun will not set until near midnight. Brilliant colors contrast instead with the eternal twilight. National Day will be celebrated once again this June 17th, 2020, and for the seventy-sixth time. While much has changed during Iceland’s in that time, National Day is also a look at what Icelandic culture—namely food, clothing and music—remains a timeless part of the celebration.

A brief history of national days in June

Iceland’s National Day is the annual holiday commemorating the foundation as The Republic of Iceland and, with it, independence from Denmark. The long summer days and Midnight Sun of Iceland aren’t the reasons this date was selected to commemorate independence from Denmark, however. It was actually chosen as the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, an Icelander from the earliest chapter of the independence campaign who pioneered the movement. Of all the holidays in Iceland, the festival activities during National Day are, perhaps, the most engrained with Icelandic culture. There is even a committee member chosen from each town to recite a poem at the Reykjavik opening ceremony—this person is always a woman, and is always clad in “Skautbúningur” (the fanciest of traditional Icelandic costumes). These women are called “Fjallkona,” or “woman of the mountain.” It’s not just the Fjallkona that dresses up, however. An enormous number of Icelanders attending the festivities dress up in traditional Icelandic clothing for the occasion. Many, for instance, wear wool sweaters with traditional Scandinavian patterns. The official program of activities on National Day begin at 10 a.m. in central Reykjavik and continue until 7 p.m.

The Iceland population’s preparation for National Day 2020 #Icelandisopen

Some locals might prepare for National Day by treating themselves to new lopi yarn sweaters to show their national pride. Others might be excited to prepare for a small gathering of family and friends at home before or after the official program of events. One thing is certain, though—this year, National Day is different for everyone. In recent weeks, COVID-19 was considered “no longer a threat” in Iceland. Activity has resumed in shops and restaurants, and the border is opening to tourists on June 15th—just in time for National Day two days later. Icelanders are using the hastag #Icelandisopen on social media to spread the word. No one is throwing caution to the winds, however. There will certainly be more gatherings at home this year for National Day, though a full program of activities is still planned in central Reykjavik. While meeting the swelling crowd of merry-makers is the highlight of National Day festivities for many, Icelanders are looking more than ever to the other elements of the celebration they love in order to feel that the holiday is celebrated properly this year. Traditional Icelandic clothing, food, and the company of a more intimate group of family and friends will be on many people’s calendars this year. If you do plan to be out and about on National Day 2020, all Icewear stores will be open. Be sure to stop by! If you’re reading from abroad or won’t be joining us in Reykjavik, make sure to follow us on social media where we will show the festivities.