Icelandic Language Blog

May Day Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

Note: We changed some things in our blog system, so sorry if you saw something strange over the past couple weeks (my posts were a little messed up and I think some of them didn’t show up for a while).

Today is May Day (also known as Labour Day – “Verkalýðsdagur / Working-classes’ Day”), always held on the first of May. It was unofficially practiced for some years, but I’m finding conflicting information about the exact date it was made official. In Reykjavik this basically means that there’s a small parade, some music, and some things go on sale while most people have the day off.  Unfortunately I haven’t found a good Icelandic calendar online so this is all I can offer you, but if you find a good one please let me know (I’ve tried a few and they were missing days or just didn’t work). An Icelandic calendar is pretty necessary because they might not even talk about the upcoming holiday online until the morning of the day itself, in regards to shop schedules and parade times. Here was today’s schedule for all around the country, which was only posted online this morning.

“Today is a flag day
1. May
The Working-class’ Struggle Day” (something like that – they seem to use “barátta – fight, struggle” in strange ways and I can’t think of a good translation right now)

Usually if you’re on their mailing list fá (the Emails you sometime before a “flag day” with the name of the day and what the rules for flag-flying are on that holiday, but today they Emailed a bit late in the morning. Remember that you can set Gmail to be in Icelandic!

að loka – to close, shut, (sometimes) end
They always close some streets when a protest or parade is going to happen. In Iceland the protests are safe, arranged, and the citizens usually cooperate with the police. As for parades, they’re quite dull – most of the parade is made up of bystanders. They have nothing like the dances, uniforms, floats, and advertisements like in even small-town parades in America.

Often the police are nearby, in various places to the sidelines of the event. Sometimes they also have some members waiting in side-streets. Things are usually very calm. As a side-note, the store Cintamani in the background is an expensive clothing store and some Icelanders who went on the show “Top Gear” to the North Pole wore clothes from them.

Reykjavík has a lot of bands and choirs. Today there was a marching band, and also a choir later at the ending place of the parade.

As you can see, in Reykjavik they still sometimes have proper uniforms.

Were you wondering what a “flag day” is? It’s a day when you can fly the full-sized Icelandic flag. Most of the rules for flag-flying only have to do with the full-sized flags, smaller flags have a lot less rules – so don’t worry about that mini Icelandic flag in your pencil holder.

Berja – to beat, thrash, fight, complain. I’m not sure how taking an official day off and having a parade is a way of fighting. This is a notice about the May Day parade schedule, from the newspaper.

“Better conditions! Better life!”
They also had a large banner about it over the town square where the parade ended at. Working conditions in Iceland, as well as the unemployment rate, aren’t actually bad at all – of course your outlook depends on where you’re from, but if you’re coming from America then Iceland seems like a sort of paradise in many regards.

Here you can see a video from Akureyri (“the capital of the north”).

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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.