In Iceland, last weekend of July or on the first weekend of August, Icelanders have their annual shopkeeper's holiday, named Verslunarmannahelgi. All over the country they celebrate in their own tremendous way by numerous parties and festivals. The most known as well as the biggest one is Þjóðhátíð, located in Westman Islands, an island outside the mainland with the capacity of around 4200 people.
Even though Þjóhátíð officially starts on a Friday and lasts until Monday morning, many of the festival guests try to get there a bit earlier to extend their dwelling on this magnificent island, which is considered one of the most beautiful places in Iceland.
At Þjóðhátið, you can be assured to have a tremendous time as the festival organizers provide a full time schedule covered with all kind of events for all ages. This is the place were the generation gap is filled and people get together in one purpose; to have fun and enjoy life over the weekend.
After arriving at the island, generally people who have their "domiciles" start unpacking and encamp. The ones who are arriving for their first times find a proper place to stay. It is very important that you had some sleep before entering the island since sleep is only possible occasionally as you will be busy attending this 24/7 party over the weekend, as well as the camping place, is located at the heart of the action.
Although some people look at this festival as a music one, some even say that music doesn't matter; it's all about the atmosphere. There are three highlights during the weekend, beginning with the unbelievable bonfire on the Friday evening, followed up by an incredible firework exhibition on the Saturday night. Finally, the last but not the least, the Sunday sing-along event with Árni Johnsen, one of Westman island´s famous persons, who gathers people to sit in the hillside and sing along with him as he goes through Icelandic folk songs. As midnight approaches, the atmosphere rises to something indescribable and hits its peak when the valley lightens up in visual highlights, which is an eruption of red torches, representing the island's volcano flames.
One can not describe the festival without mentioning the people of Westman Islands. You would expect the residents to be less than tolerant when the massive invasion begins but the truth is that you will discover people one of their kind. Hospitality such as theirs can not be found anywhere else in the world. As the locals have their own white "house" tents in the middle of the valley, all in white, guests are invited for their so-called private parties inside of them where the residents will welcome you gladly with smoked puffin or homemade brownies swallowed down with something appropriated. Remember not to be afraid to ask for more, they are very lavish.
All this kindness is not only to be found within the festival area as the town is filled with endless opportunities to entertain your self in one way or another. Again, do not be afraid to ask the locals of anything, such as how to get back to the festival valley, as they will happily drive you in their Lorries who are specially decorated for this event and provide you with the loudest music as you roll into the madness again.
Þjóðhátíð is for each and every one of us as long as we are looking for the greatest party ever, and luckily for us Icelanders, that happens annually in Westman Islands.
Text: Arnar B. Sigurðsson
Did you know
The first Þjóðhátíð was held in 1874 at the same time as the 1.000 year anniversary of the settlement celebrations took place on the mainland. The reason for the special festival in Westman Islands, is that the local residents couldn't sail over to celebrate with the rest of the nation due to bad weather and instead of sitting with long faces they decided to have their own little fiesta and they have been doing that ever since.
Today Þjóðhátíð is the biggest festival in Iceland with around 16.000 people participating and ironically now around 11.000 -13.000 people travel from the mainland to enjoy this magnificent event.