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Quirks of the Old Icelandic Calendar: Þorri, Bóndadagur, and Hopping On One Foot Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history

Þorri is the name of the fourth month of winter, according to the old Icelandic calendar (more on this later). It starts on a Friday – falling between the 19th and 26th of January, this year the 20th – and ends on the Saturday before the month known as Góa commences.

 

Many of you may recognize the word þorri, which is the root of the word þorrablót, a day of feasting on traditional Icelandic foods introduced around the late 19th century (the sacrifice dedicated to the god Thor may be its namesake). On this particular occasion, national foods are called þorramatur (that word is only about 30 years old).

But today, I’m going to gloss over that day of feasting, nationalism, and revelry in lieu of its predecessor– a slightly more obscure tradition that takes place on the first day of þorri, called bóndadagur. Again, you may recognize the word bónda as a declined form of the word bóndi, which typically means farmer, but can also mean ‘husband,’ ‘man of the house,’ or ‘boyfriend.’ Thus the first day of the month of þorri is the day of the farmer/husband/boyfriend. The word itself doesn’t appear in text form until the 20th century – though that may be partly because of a reluctance to record what was only in talmál – spoken language, colloquialism.

 

One year, give or take a (leap) week.

 

Traditionally, on that day, the farmer/head of house would rise before everyone else. He would go outside without his shirt on. And he’d only have one leg in his pants, while the other pant leg flapped in the air behind him. Then he’d hop around on one foot, completing three circles around the farm before returning to the house. This tradition was one way of greeting the month of þorri. His wife would prepare him a veritable feast of whatever was on hand – in this case, what’s now thought of as traditional Icelandic fare—and she’d invite all the neighbors to join in the festivities. (Pssst– Information on bóndadagur was compiled by Jón Árnasson; the Icelandic website Vísindavefur reports that no other written account of this tradition has been confirmed.)

…and the sheep looked on in bewilderment

The surviving form of this tradition is, of course, þorrablót – feasts all around Iceland in the first weeks of þorri. But it’s perhaps most common to give bóndadagurblómin (bóndadagur flowers), a practice that appeared around 1980, to your partner, spouse, friendly neighborhood farmer.

The complementary form of this tradition is konudagurinn – women’s day—which takes place on the first day of the winter month of góa, which I’ll say more about as the time approaches.

But the question remains: should one hop around one’s homestead in one pant leg, barefoot, and bare chested on this day, or should one jump into a pair of boxers and make a quick dash around the house?

 

 

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About the Author:Meg

Hi, I'm Meg! I'm a former-New Yorker-now-Reykjavíkur. I'm here to help you learn Icelandic, the language that I love the most. Me? I'm a former Fulbright scholar, with an MFA from Columbia, and I've published many translations into English from Icelandic and German. I currently study Icelandic, and translate poetry by trade. (If you have questions or comments on my entries, you can write them to me in the comments in either English, German, or Icelandic.)