Bucket List Check #23 - Bringing In The New Year, Iceland Style

So, the wife of a friend of mine from graduate school is an executive for American Airlines. I had an opportunity to chat with her at a party one evening, and I was dying to ask her - what's the most exciting place she's ever visited?
Keep in mind, this woman travels non stop. She and her husband have no kids, and she gets to fly anywhere in the world for her job. I would often see my grad school friend and her jetting off overseas to Paris or Hong Kong...for a weekend jaunt! Her reply, after taking a few moments to ponder...was New Years in Iceland. And this conversation was the impetus for Mike's and my trip to Iceland!

What's so big about New Years in Iceland, you ask? Two reasons. And ironically, both concern the polar opposite of Iceland's namesake - fire.

1) Forget The Ball In NYC...Vikings Are Into Bonfires!

Bonfire Just Waiting To Happen
Photo Credit: Iceland Monitor 

So, we know from history, vikings would often burn their dead in large, sometimes floating, funeral pyres, which means, they are pretty much top level experts when it comes to building bonfires. It is a tradition for people of Iceland to light sparklers and gather around these massive bonfires, bask in its warmth and reflect on the past year, as well as bring in the new year surrounded by friends and family.

Lighting Sprinklers In Front of the Bonfire in Reykjavik Iceland

Mike and Me at the Bonfire in Iceland
The crowds around the bonfire can get quite large.

According to the Iceland Monitor, many people of Iceland used to believe in elves and the "hidden people" who according to folklore, were very active during the period from Christmas to New Years. It was common to gather around these bonfires and sing songs specifically about the elves. Despite many Icelanders not believing in the "hidden people" today, lighting bonfires during New Years has remained and Iceland tradition.

My Son in Front of the Iceland Bonfire on New Years Eve Reykjavik

We found a tour that took us in a bus to the one of the many bonfires and gave us some sparklers to light off.  I don't think there was a charge to attend, and we probably could have just taken a cab or Uber over to the many bonfire locations throughout Reykjavik.  The bonfires usually start around 8:30 pm and last until around 10:30 pm on New Year's Eve.

2) Iceland Fireworks > United States Fireworks

In keeping with the tradition of building big bonfires, the people of Iceland can put even a President Trump fireworks display on United States' birthday to shame.

Amazingly, for being part of the European Union, with all their rules and regulations, when it comes to fireworks, regulations in Iceland are about as lax as they come. I think maybe there was one rule - don't shoot the large fireworks around the bonfire, with lots of people around it. But other than that, it seemed like anything goes. I mean, the fire department of all people sell the fireworks! And we're not talking about sparklers, people - we're talking rockets and those things that make big bang sounds. People were shooting them out on their 2nd floor balconies out onto the street (with pedestrians still walking about!).

People get started shooting fireworks at nightfall, (which is early during the winter, like 3 or 4 pm) with the display building in intensity until around midnight, and many people continue their celebrations well into the wee hours of the night. It almost sounded like being in a war zone, with constant booms going off, but obviously no gunfire.

Fireworks on New Years Eve at Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik IcelandPeople gather around Hallgrímskirkja church around midnight to watch the display.

NYE in Reykjavik Iceland
Photo Credit: Icelandinpictures.com

Around midnight, people gather at the Hallgrímskirkja church in the center of Reykjavik and you can watch the entire horizon fill with light and color as each surrounding city lights off a continuous stream of fireworks. It is a sight to behold!

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