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Traditions Surrounding the Beginning of Lent in Iceland

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

This week is very special in Iceland with three days of fun activities, feasting, and celebrating. It is so important to continue teaching the traditions, folklore, history, and culture.

Yesterday was Bolludagur (Bun Day). This is actually a cream puff type of pastry filled with whipped cream and sometimes jam topped with chocolate. Yes, very yummy! Children decorate ”Bun Day paddles” and then try to give spanks to their parents. They get one bolla (bun) for each time they are able to spank their parents with these paddles. Check out the recipe at the bottom of this post.

Today is Sprengidagur (Bursting Day or Fat Tuesday) and is the day before Lent where you eat salted lamb meat and bean stew until you burst. The historic reason for eating a meat soup is because in the olden days, you would not eat meat again for the 40 days of Lent. Many of my friends in Iceland say that they like to eat pönnukökur (pancakes) on this day, too.

Then Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday) is tomorrow. In Iceland, children dress up in fancy costumes and sing for candy in stores and at various companies. It is similar to Halloween here in America. There is also a tradition of pinning small bags of ashes (Öskupokar) onto an innocent passerby. Today, these bags are decorated and not filled with ashes but more as a small gift to the person. In Akureyri, they raise a paper-covered barrel and the children take turns “beating the cat out of the barrel” to get the candy.

During Lent in Iceland, the Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar) written by Hallgrímur Pétursson is broadcast. One hymn is read each day over the air. You can listen to them HERE starting tomorrow. The fifty poems start with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death and being laid in the tomb. The very last hymn is called Death’s Uncertain Hour and this hymn is very common at Icelandic funerals.

Hallgrímur (1614-1674) was born in the northern village of Hólar. His father was the bell-ringer and his uncle was the Bishop. Hallgrímur actually ran away from home and even left Iceland with some trade merchants. An Icelandic priest found him and helped him succeed in a Danish Seminary.

He left the seminary and returned to Iceland – but not before he and a married woman named Guðríður got together and she became pregnant. Guðríður found out that her husband had died so she went to Hallgrímur and they were married. They had three children including one son that has many descendants.

Here is a very interesting story written by my friend, Hálfdan Helgason, about how Guðríður was captured by pirates! Hálfdan has so many interesting stories in his newsletters. Check out the Pirate Story.

Hallgrímur worked as a common working man for seven years. Then the priest that sponsored him in Seminary School asked him to become the priest at Hvalsnes even though Hallgrímur had never graduated. Hallgrímur was popular and did a great job in Hvalsnes and in 1651, he became the priest at Saurbæ á Hvalfjarðarströnd. He served there until he died of leprosy.

Of course, I need to add a little genealogy connection here …. Hallgrímur’s grandparents, Guðmundur Hallgrímsson and Guðfinna Tómasdóttir, are my 10th Great Grandparents. They had six children and have many descendants. So maybe they are your ancestors, too! The beautiful Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgríms Church) in Reykjavík is named after Hallgrímur.

This week, I am at a ranch in Arizona for health, nutrition, exercise and rest. We do not have any of these Icelandic goodies here. But if you want to try making the Icelandic Cream Puffs …. here is a great recipe from a wonderful cookbook by Nana that you can buy online or at Tergeson’s Store in Gimli.

Icelandic Bun Recipe for ”Bun Day” (Bolludagur) From the book Icelandic Food and Cookery, by Nana Rögnvaldardóttir.

Bolludagsbollur – Makes approx 16 buns – Ingredients 1/2 cup butter, softened 2/3 cup sugar 3 eggs 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or grated zest of 1 lemon 2 1/2 cups flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 cups whipped cream 8 oz chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream butter and sugar and whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the cardamom or lemon zest. Sift the flour with the baking powder and stir until thoroughly blended but do not over mix. Scoop up the dough with a tablespoon and make small mounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper – there should be around 16 buns in all.

Bake in the center of the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the buns begin to brown at the edge. They will spread out somewhat but should be around 1 inch thick in the middle. Let them cool on a rack, then split each bun in half and pipe a generous dollop of cream on the bottom half. Dip the upper half in melted chocolate and sandwich the bun together.

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