Iceland National Day

June 17

“So weareth summer: Uspak rideth to the Leet and halloweth it; and when harvest comes, he fares to the fells when men go after their wethers, and they were brought in well, for the searching was careful, and no sheep were missing, either of Odd’s or any other man’s.” — The Story of the Banded Men, ancient Islandic saga

Summer is here, and few appreciate that fact more than the Icelanders. On June 17, one of the longest days of the year, Iceland celebrates its independence from Denmark in 1944.

That’s right, the Icelanders left Denmark during its darkest hour, when the mother country was on its knees, occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II.* That just shows how sneaky Icelanders are.

In fact Iceland was founded on sneakiness. It was named “Iceland” despite its volcanos and steaming geysers to convince tourists to try someplace “sunnier.” Like Greenland.

And the ploy worked. Today Iceland has a population of only 320,000. Meaning if Iceland were a U.S. city, it would be vying with Riverside, California for the coveted “60th biggest city in the nation” spot.

Despite its diminutive size, Iceland is was an economic powerhouse. It ranked #1 in the UN Human Development Index in 2007/2008, and is consistently one of the wealthiest countries in the world, per capita. Or at least it was until 2008 when the global financial crisis decimated the Icelandic economy. When the smoke cleared, it turned out the three largest banks in the country had nursed a combined debt equal to six times Iceland’s annual GDP.

The crisis hasn’t put a damper on this year’s celebrations though, which are set to include parades, dancing, singing and merry-making as usual.

June 17 was chosen as the day to officially break away from Denmark back in 1944 because it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the leading proponent for Icelandic independence back in the 19th century.

“He who lives without discipline dies without honor.” — Icelandic proverb

“Two men need one money, but one money needs no man. One is on one’s knees, loses one’s head, except maybe a delicious demon. Hee how!” — Bjork

*At the time of its independence, Iceland was occupied by the Allies. British troops landed in 1941; U.S. troops took over soon after. And left in 2006.

Beer Day! – Iceland

March 1


You may be aware of the United States’ 13-year experiment with prohibition back in the, well, Prohibition Era (1920-1933).

But it is a testament to the stout-hardiness of the Icelandic people that they kept up their beer ban for over five times that long: a full 75 years. Iceland was beer-free between 1914 and 1989 — a time period that roughly mirrors the entire existence of the Soviet Union.

The beer ban was finally repealed on March 1, 1989.

Nine months later the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If you doubt the causal connection between these events, it is a clear indicator that you have not sufficiently participated in the celebration of Beer Day, a ritual which entails consuming your weight in the hop-filled elixir.

Just to clarify, the Icelandic people did have some help during the dark days of prohibition, and from an unlikely ally. The Spanish and Portuguese declared they would not import Iceland’s salted cod unless Iceland imported some Iberian red wine. Thus, wine was legalized while beer remained taboo.

Twenty years after the repeal, Iceland boasts one major brewery for every 100,000 people.

Which means three.

Yes, Iceland has about 300,000 people, less people than the L.A. School District, grades 7 through 12.

Iceland’s low population growth has be attributed to the fact that — in case you haven’t been paying attention — beer was illegal there for 75 years.

How Can I Do My Part to Celebrate this Historic Holiday?

Every year thousands of Americans stand in solidarity with the Icelandic people, commiserating their tragic 20th century beer drought by imbibing a round of Icelandic beer, or whatever beer happens to be nearby.

However, Americans don’t celebrate Iceland Beer Day on March 1, but whenever they get around to it, usually in April.