Icelandic Language Blog

Elves, fire, explosions: New Year in Iceland Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Bonfire night in Iceland by Gúnna at

New Year is fast approaching. For Icelanders it begins tomorrow, or perhaps right after Christmas, depending on whether you use the official definition or the start of the partying. Officially we’re beginning tomorrow, however, the party is already on. We’ve had fireworks every day, some quite flashy since that’s the way the fireworks sellers here advertise their wares. People are being very lax about work and since Christmas is the time of feasting everyone’s been eating really well. The gyms will see a peak of customers in January (and by February things have returned to normal no doubt)!

The partying tomorrow will start by people visiting friends and family, eating heavily and then making their way to the nearest  áramótabrennur (= lit. transl. two years meeting -burning), huge bonfires lit all around the country. In the Reykjavík area you have ten different locations to select from and the city has put together a helpful list of the locations here. They’re also marked for size, although even when they call something lítil brenna (= small burning) you may expect both a large fire and large crowds.

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Áramótabrenna by Sigurdur Jonsson at

Eldur er borinn að köstunum kl. 20:30 á gamlárskvöld á öllum stöðum nema einum, en á Úlfarsfelli er tendrað kl. 14:30 um daginn.   Engin formleg dagskrá er á borgarbrennunum en fólk er hvatt til að rifja upp álfasöngvana og mæta með góða skapið.

Enga skotelda má hafa með á brennurnar.

“Fire is lit at 20:30 on the old year’s evening at every location save one, at Úlfarsfell it’s lit at 14:30 during the day. No arranged schedule (of activities) is (available) for the city bonfires but people are encouraged to strike up elf songs and meet with a good mood.

No fireworks (of the variety that’s sent up) are allowed at the bonfires.”

Elf songs? According to an Icelandic belief elves move house during the New Year’s Eve. If you happen to see large groups of well-clad and wealthy looking people it may be best to pretend they’re not there, they typically get angry if you interact with them while they’re busy moving. For the foolhardy there’s a chance of trying to gain some elven gold by blocking their way at cross roads with an axe in hand, but if you so much as acknowledge their presence you’ll not only lose the gold, you’ve also gambled your sanity away!

“Elf songs is basically just elves being d[censored]s to people or giving them shiny things.”



FLUGELDAR by Christine at

After the bonfires the fireworks begin at earnest. This will continue as crazy non-stop explosions around the town up until exactly half past ten. Then an eerie silence will fall.

There are many locations for getting your fireworks for the night by the way, but none as popular as the Björgunarsveitinn, voluntary rescue units of Iceland who fund their work by f.ex. selling fireworks. People love them and for a good reason, so I would also recommend them for you.


Fireworks by Vala Run at

The silence will then continue for exactly 50 minutes. During this time you’ll only hear sparse explosions if any at all. The reason for this is the annual Áramótaskaupið, a comedy show that puts together the news of the year 2014 in a hilarious and often somewhat cynical light. I’m expecting at least one notion to our Prime Minister going on a holiday right before an important election (link to the news in English) and his secretary reacting in a suitable manner right after the news got out (link, also in English). But all’s well that ends well, later on he received a medal. Secretly. (link)

I wonder if they’ll also mention that some Icelandic doctors have to set their offices in containers (link)? We even have a new word for these – læknagámur, doctors’ containers.

After Skaupið is over the fireworks continue immediately. This will be the absolutely crazy part of the night that’ll end up covering lower areas in thick gun powder cloud, people save their biggest ones for after the Skaup and the noise is amazing. All my sympathy goes to all local dog owners! Besides Icelanders are somewhat lax about sending fireworks, they’re sent from anything that stays mostly upright but accidents do happen every year. Two years ago my SO was almost hit by a skyrocket, last year some group managed to explode a huge one right on top of a neighbour’s house. True to form Icelanders shrug off these near misses; they don’t matter since nothing happened. And if something happens… well, that was some really bad luck. So if you’re spending the Eve here consider wearing safety goggles!


New Year’s Eve 4 by Atli Harðarson at

Farsælt komandi ár!

See you in 2015!

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!