New Years Eve In Iceland: A Foreigner’s Guide

By a show of hands who knew that going to Iceland for New Years was a thing? One- no, Two of you?! Well, we had no idea. Turns out, Iceland is supposed to be one of the best, if not THE BEST places in the world to ring in the new year and we just couldn’t resist.

In preparation for our short stay there this New Years eve, I couldn’t help but research all about New Years in Iceland. I couldn’t find a good round-up of all the festivities so I thought I would make my own and share it with you.

Not only does Iceland celebrate in style with long standing traditions, but it also boasts a huge country-wide firework show put on by none other than the local Icelanders themselves. It is rumored that over 500 tons of fireworks are set off each new years eve in Iceland. How exciting!

Ok, so Iceland is going to be packed. At first I thought, “No big deal”. I’ll go on and find a couch to crash on for the duration of our stay. But after contacting 10-20 people with no luck, I came to the realization that it may be a little more difficult to find a place than I first thought.

I had a strict budget but when looking for a room I was surprised to find that most hostels, hotels, and BnBs in our price-range were already fully booked. What! I told Josh that we needed to book a place fast or we would be huddled in a cave somewhere in the Icelandic hills freezing to death on new years eve.

That night in a panicked search I found two cozy beds in a 16 person dorm room a little ways outside the country capital of Reykjavik. Let the travel adventure begin! We are paying 17 euro per person per bed. Its not that bad of a price to keep ourselves from freezing to death. Lets hope that we will sleep well with 14 other roommates from around the world ringing in the new year.

Icelandic New Years Eve Traditions

New years eve is known as the biggest party of the year in Iceland. A full evening of events begins at 6PM when nearly all Icelanders in their capital city of Reykjavik attend mass. Others listen on the radio while preparing a traditional family feast involving fish soup, lamb and a special yogurt-like dessert called Skyr.

After filling their stomachs with delicious warm food the Icelanders head out to meet at large bonfires (Icelandic: Brenna) across the city. The tradition of the new years eve bonfire has continued since the late eighteenth century where the first recorded bonfire in Iceland’s history was lit by school boys in the 1791 in Reykjavik. The tradition was upheld when fisherman burned the previous year’s fishing gear in preparation for the new year and new gear. Now the tradition continues and the bonfires are usually set up and supervised by the town or the village.

Bonfire in Iceland on New Year's Eve

Bonfire in Iceland on New Year’s Eve. Photo by Toffehoff, CC 2.0

We will be participating by playing with sparklers, warming our bums near the fire, and hopefully joining in song.

Song you say? I’ve heard that according to Icelandic folklore, on new year’s eve, elves go about seeking new residences. They can take up residence anywhere be it a rock or stone wall. Having an elf family close by can bring good fortune so people are encouraged to welcome them into their homes. The Icelanders leave candles to help them find their way and sing for the elves as they scurry about:

♫ Komi þeir sem koma vilja
 Fari þeir sem fara vilja
 Veri þeir sem vera vilja 
Mér og mínum að meinlausu. ♫

The general meaning being, “I honor those that here do pass. 
I bid them well who want to leave
. I welcome those who wish to stay. 
But harm not me and mine.”

At around 22:30 Iceland becomes a ghost town as families all go inside and glue themselves to the television. Yes, practically the whole country watches Áramótaskaupið (English: The New Year’s comedy) which is a satirical comedy of the previous year.

From what I’ve heard they don’t hold anything back and it’s the talk of the country the next day. What a fun tradition! That would be like all of America watching Saturday night live on new years eve making fun of all the ridiculous things that happened during the year. I love that idea! Why haven’t we as a country done something like that. I like a little humor when reminiscing on previous events… keeps me from crying.

Then at the 24:00 the madness begins! The national ban on fireworks is lifted for a one night attempt to light up the entire sky. At the same time, fire trucks and harbored ships ring their bells and blow their horns to welcome the new year.

Fireworks are Josh’s favorite thing. I imagine him lighting up like an eight year old whose every dream has come true.

The whole city is said to party the night away. At this point, I plan to be sleeping as we have a road trip planned to leave the next morning. I’m sure our night will be very interesting if you remember that we have 14 other roommates. I’ll have to fill you in later. I’m sure it will be quite eventful.

After researching Iceland’s traditions, culture, and folklore I’ve begun to understand why people from around the world flock there to celebrate the new year. The more I learn about Iceland the more I fall in love. I know there is so much more to experience and I cant wait to be amazed by the land of fire and ice.

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