Iceland: National Day

Iceland celebrates its National Day on 17 June, the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, who led the Icelandic movement for independence from Denmark in the 19th century.

The date was chosen following a referendum in 1943 in which Icelanders voted to break the link with the Danish crown. Denmark was occupied by the Germans at the time, while Allied forces (initially British, joined later by US forces) had moved into Iceland to prevent the Germans from occupying it as well, so some Icelandic politicians and the Allies argued that the status quo should remain in place until after the war was over. But the Icelandic government proceeded regardless, and King Christian X sent a message of congratulation to the new republic on 17 June 1944.

Formal celebrations take the form of a procession by brass bands and Scout flag bearers through each urban area, often with Icelandic horses ridden ahead of the band. Speeches are made and often a poem is read by a woman dressed in national costume, representing Iceland’s national personification, the Woman of the Mountains. Afterwards, celebrations take on more of a fairground atmosphere, with musicians entertaining the crowds and gas balloons being released.

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