Bolludagur, Sprengidagur, Öskudagur

I hope you all had a lovely Pancake Day yesterday. Unfortunately, in Iceland there is no such thing. Today we are finishing a trio of mildly festive days that Icelanders celebrate in the run-up to Lent. And also the beginning of Lent I suppose, since that started today.

On Monday it was Bolludagur (Bun Day), on which Icelanders eat a lot of rjómabollur (cream buns). I enjoyed it very much and managed to get cream all over my face, although as it happens I only had one bolla, because the six-year-old and I had to leave for his ice-hockey lesson. When I returned there were no remaining bollur. Sad times.

Yesterday was Sprengidagur (Exploding Day). It is so called because you are supposed to eat so much salted lamb and split pea stew that you explode. So that's what we had for tea, and it was properly delicious. I am a big fan of stews. I'd never had saltkjöt (salted lamb) before, and it was really good. At Ikea it was possible to get this meal yesterday for two krónur. Which is genuinely only one penny. Is that not incredible? We didn't go, but all the kids were singing the jingle all day. Saltkjöt og baunir, túkall!

But it was Pancake Day in my heart, and I'll be damned if I'll go Pancake Day without any pancakes. So I bought some lemons on my way home from my Icelandic lesson, and after dinner I made English-style pancakes with the 15-year-old. I felt under a certain amount of pressure as the ambassador for the noble tradition of Pancake Day, especially as I am not the best ever at making pancakes without everything going wrong at the flipping stage. To make matters worse, the pan was far from ideal - way too deep. Sure enough, a number of the pancakes were not in pancake form when they left the pan. Quite a lot turned out really well, though, and they all tasted excellent. Icelanders never have lemon and sugar with their pancakes, but I think people were fans. Apart from the 6-year-old, who refused to have lemon on his second one.

Today is Öskudagur (Ash Day), which obviously corresponds to Ash Wednesday in English-speaking countries. But here it is quite a big deal. It's sort of like a weird Icelandic version of Halloween. All the kids went to school in costume (they were dressed as Lína Langsokkur / Pippi Longstocking, a bat, an emo and a toddler, going from youngest to oldest), and the 11-year-old and his friends went down Laugavegur singing in return for sweets. I have the feeling that this tradition is relatively recent, because it doesn't really tie in with the religious calendar at all. Today is the start of Lent; we're supposed to be abstaining from things and practicing self-control, not eating as many sweets as possible, er það ekki? I suppose Iceland was just jealous of the American Halloween, but didn't want to copy too obviously.

Icelanders also do not give things up for Lent. It was very difficult to explain the whole concept. I don't usually give things up for Lent. One time I tried to give up coffee and my need for caffeine just drove me into the arms of tea. But this year I intend to. I am giving up speaking English to Icelanders. Because I do it far too much, and it is not good for my language learning. I have already failed, technically speaking, because I lost my purse this morning and I was having a crisis about missing the bus. I was too stressed to not speak English. But from now on, having found my purse again, only English when talking to non-Icelanders.


  1. Ash Cloud Wednesday?

  2. Heyja, found your blog whilst browsing for material on sprengidagur ;-) Just wanted to throw in that rather than a halloween, i.e. shamain based tradition, it is of course much more related to Mardi gras and the festival tradition in Catholic countries, and as such Öskudagur has been celebrated with costumes of some sorts for centuries, just another example of how Icelandic culture pick what it likes from transient religions and governing bodies and skips the rest ;-D

  3. Thanks for the insight! I didn't think of that, Mardi gras is not really on my cultural radar. Although it is the equivalent of Pancake Day / Sprengidagur, n'est-ce pas? I think Icelanders just want to have three fun days in a row with none of the Lent stuff. Which, good on them, really.

  4. Happy Mardi Gras from New Orleans!