Icelandic Language Blog

Holidays Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

I have so many things to write about that I didn’t know what to pick, but how about learning about Iceland’s current three-day holiday streak? The first day is Bun Day (Bolludagur), the next is Sprengidagur (Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras), and then today’s day is Ash Day (Öskudagur).

On Bun Day, something that has been going on for at least 100 years now and was something most probably taken from Scandinavian tradition, you basically eat dessert buns. By “bun” in this case we’re talking about a roll-shaped doughnut. The Icelandic buns are like a combination of Danish and Swedish buns – Danish buns have chocolate on top, Swedish buns have sugar on top, and both have whipped cream on the inside. Icelandic buns often have jam and/or whipped cream on the inside, sometimes fruit as well, and are topped with chocolate or glaze.

EDIT: I forgot to mention, this is the holiday where kids supposedly hit their parents with switches (made of sticks and paper) and get one bun per hit if they hit the parent before they’ve gotten out of bed. I’ve heard little of this being done in Iceland though, and I’m not finding many Google results that even explain that this is done, so I can’t tell you if families really do it. I’ve heard it’s done in Denmark still.

The next holiday, I’ve been told, is basically where you eat salted meat, or hangikjöt (double-smoked meat) with salt and beans. (Wikipedia has said this is sometimes called “Pancake-Tuesday” but since I’ve never celebrated these holidays in America, I have no idea about that.) That tradition has been going on since the 19th century, along with Bun Day.

Today’s celebration is where kids dress up in Halloween costumes (yes, the very same $20-and-under ones we get for Halloween), or maybe don’t dress up at all, and walk around stores and offices singing for pieces of candy. It’s an older holiday than at least Bun Day, but I’m not sure about Sprengidagur. Although people might lead you to believe they carry little bags holding ash as part of the celebration, all I saw today were regular shopping bags for the candy, and the kids didn’t even have a theme to their costumes. I saw witches, clowns, and one girl even just tied a shopping bag over her chest. The kids traveled mostly in groups and sang to cashiers and even to the doctor’s receptionist, but they sang so quietly that I couldn’t pick up the words. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good video either, but here you can watch a video from the news that has them singing.

Bolla – bun
Bolludagsbolla – Bun Day bun
Berlínarbolla – bun filled with jam and topped with powdered sugar.
Hveitibolla “white/plain bun” – used to be eaten in a plate of milk (buns are still eaten this way sometimes in Sweden). The word for white is also used to mean plain sometimes.
Vatnsdeigsbolla “water dough bun” – (Choux pastry dough – thanks, Verónika!) plain bun that is commonly used for the base of the buns eaten for Bun Day.
Gerbolla “yeast bun” (same as Swedish semmla) – another plain bun. I’m not sure if the finished buns even have their own name.
Rjómabolla “cream bun” – has whipped cream inside

EDIT: Here is a translated recipe for Icelandic “vatnsdeigsbollur”. This agrees with the instructions my Icelandic friend told me (which was mainly “boil things and add the eggs in one at at time”).

These are berlínarbollur, they look just like the Swedish “apple monks” but are filled with jam and not applesauce. When I went to a bakery today it didn’t seem like people were buying just one type of bun in particular, but maybe they do on Bun Day.

Just a note, all of the Bun Day buns I’ve seen here and on Google look really ugly, like they want to make them look especially lumpy. Some on Google even have really bright frosting, but I didn’t see any like that in bakeries.
“Buns Buns
You can trust our buns
Open weekdays (“working days”) from… to…
And on weekends (“over weekends”) from… to…”

These were kids who had been singing for Ash Day, with some family members. Probably half the kids I saw were dressed up, the others just wore normal clothes.

I also heard the song the kids were all singing on the radio a few times, although I don’t know what it’s called or what the lyrics are. Here is a song, one stanza about each of the holidays.

Here you can find some Bun Day recipes with photos. (Most Icelandic recipes are just text.) I’m not sure how good these particular recipes are though… if you need any help reading the recipes, just ask!

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.


  1. Verónika:

    Thanks for the video link! I always knew about this holiday, the dressing up part and the singing for candy part, but didn’t realize it was tied to Ash Wednesday and that the children carried ashes (or should carry).

    The reason the Bolludagsbolla are always pictured lumpy is because they are! They are cream puffs and not cream filled doughnuts (as pictured of berlínarbollur).

  2. sequoia:

    Haha, I gathered as much that they’re supposed to be lumpy, otherwise the bakery ads might be a bit nicer. : D

    I didn’t know what cream puffs were, but are they really the same? Because some of these recipes for the buns use yeast but wikipedia says cream puff dough is special because it has no yeast or baking powder, etc.

    EDIT: I see! Vatnsdeigsbollur are made from cream puff dough, but the gerbollur and others look the same but are with different doughs. I guess because some people are allergic to yeast…? When I looked online, both with and without yeast seemed to be about equally as popular.