Buns, Explosions and Ashes: Iceland Before Lent

Photo: Icelandic Roots

Buns, Explosions and Ashes: Iceland Before Lent

The Time Before Lent

Many countries that have a history of being christian have a period in which  all of the rich foods are removed from the house in the days before lent. Jesus is said to have spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by the devil, and in giving up rich foods for lent we are said to show our solidarity.

Every country has their own pre-lent traditions, and Iceland is no different. Two days prior to lent, the day before lent and the first day of lent bring a succession of traditions. Here they are, in order. 

Bolludagur/Bun Day

Icelanders consume one MILLION cream buns on Bolludagur!

In the UK, this takes the form of pancake day, called Shrove Tuesday, and a pancake feast ensues. Many other countries also have this tradition. In Iceland, this gets bumped back by a day to make room for Explosion day (see below) but the idea is the same.

The Icelanders do something a bit more decadent. Pancake day becomes Bun Day or Bolludagur, and cream-filled pastry buns are everywhere to be be found! Unsurprisingly, they can be found for a long while before Bun Day and for a little while after too! Icelanders will consume one MILLION cream buns on Bolludagur! Divided by the 330000 souls on this Iceland, thats 3 per person, in all!

Explosion Day/Sprengidagur

Following Bolladagur is Sprengidagur, literally translated to explosion day, or blast day. It’s something like Mardi Gras, like you see in New Orleans. No, just kidding. It’s far more modest than that! 

Explosion day is quite straight forward: eat until you explode! Eat what, you say? Ah yes, the Icelanders eat something very particular, although quite in keeping with what you might expect if you are at all familiar with Icelandic food.  On this day, it’s all about lentils, vegetables and salted meat. It’s similar to the Icelandic meat soup. But saltier. And with lentils. 

Photo: Icelandic Roots

Ash Day/Öskudagur

Öskudagur means “Ash Day”, but in Iceland this isn’t just your regular Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent.  It has quite a lot in common with halloween actually. Young children will dress up in costumes and go around to different stores, asking for candy. 

In addition, in Iceland Ash Wednesday really does include ashes, but not in the way you might expect; young women will attempt to pin small bags of ashes to object of their desires, and mean will do the same, but with a bag of pebbles. 

Photo: engineering.is

Get Involved!

The pre-lent celebrations in iceland can be quite fun. Get involved! How close can you get to explosion point? How many buns can you eat? It’s fun to go to different bakeries and find the best buns, you could easily eat a dozen! If you are spoken for, you won’t have anyone to pin bags of ashes onto, but the rest is great too! Don't miss Iceland Rovers food tours that let you sample a range of Icelandic food. During these seasonal times, you may get to try some of the traditional foods yourself!

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Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian housebold, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a masters degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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