On Monday we had Bolludagur, when kids spank their parents to get delicious cream filled buns. Then, on Tuesday, the last day before Lent we had Sprengidagur, literally blast of explosion day, named because you eat so much. Today is Öskudagur, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and one of the most important days of the year if you are religious (most Icelanders aren’t) or a kid (almost every Icelander has been a child at some point in their life.)
What goes on on öskudagur?
This festival comes from the Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday however it seems that hundreds of years ago Icelanders looked at it and decided it needed more treats, fancy dress, and little bags of ash.
The bags of ash do come from Christianity. After going to church for Ash Wednesday you would take a little bag of ash home with you to bless the house. Naturally girls carrying the ash started pinning it to the backs of boys they liked, and so boys started pinning little bags of stones to their crushes too. Soon everyone was slyly pinning bags of ash to everyone else.
Nowadays our homes are heated geothermically, so there is less ash readily available, so the few people who still do this will often use grain instead. Unlike the Halloween tradition of trick of treat – essentially blackmail for candy – this is a harmless prank. Making people seem a little silly by walking around with a small bag on their back is joy enough. No egging houses required.
The tradition as a whole has been going on for centuries, probably brought from Norway and Denmark, though some parts of it like ‘beating the cat out of the barrel‘ have largely disappeared.
If you visit Iceland on this day you will definitely see groups of charming children wandering the streets in fancy dress, and going into shops. There they have to earn their treats, normally by singing for them. How cute!
We hope you enjoyed learning about the awesome festival of oskudagur we have here in Iceland. We hope you can visit us some day soon and join in!