North America’s longest-running ethnic festivals return to celebrate Icelandic heritage.
Over the centuries, Icelanders and their descendants have seen and survived it all, from isolation and volcanic catastrophe to religious upheaval and imperial subjectification. Even the wave of mass emigration from Iceland in 1855-1914 could not harm the country for long. Instead, it brought the Icelandic spirit of resiliency and independence to even more corners of the globe — including two small towns in North America that have carried on Icelandic traditions ever since.
“The Deuce,” as it is called by American Icelanders in Mountain, North Dakota, USA, refers to August 2nd, 1874 — the day Iceland received an improved (though imperfect) constitution from its foreign ruler at the time, King Kristjan IX of Denmark. In Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, the day is called “Íslendingadagurinn,” or “The Day of the Icelanders.”
Although the date is not an official holiday in Iceland itself, Icelandic settlements across North America have adopted it as their own. That’s why more than six prime ministers of Iceland have had time to visit Mountain on this weekend since 2005. In fact, when I met Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson at the Deuce in 1999, it was the first time that a current leader of another nation had ever paid a visit to North Dakota. (Thanks to the IR database, I know now that he and I are 6th cousins, three times removed, from our common ancestor Guðrún Jónsdóttir, born in 1675).
The author of this blog post (as a 5-year-old boy) meeting the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, at the Deuce in Mountain, ND with his sister and amma in 1999.
The national Independence Day of Iceland is June 17 to commemorate the day the country finally broke free from Danish rule in 1944, during the chaos of World War II. On the same date in 1811, Jón Sigurðsson was born — the man responsible for securing that improved constitution in 1874 and celebrated for setting Iceland on a course for true independence 65 years after his death.
This year, both the Deuce and Íslendingadagurinn begin on the last weekend in July, and after smaller, semi-virtual versions of the annual event were held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lovers of Icelandic culture across the continent are ready to celebrate — and Icelandic Roots will be right there with them!
In Mountain, the Deuce celebrates its 122nd annual celebration — what the North Dakota Department of Tourism has confirmed is the longest-running ethnic festival of the state. In Gimli, 2021 marks the 131st annual Íslendingadagurinn festival — a truly remarkable testament to the dedication of generations of Icelandic immigrants and their descendants.
Check out the links below to get more information on how to attend each festival, and be sure to follow Icelandic Roots online for updates and event coverage on social media.
We will be LIVE on Friday from 1-4 pm Central Time in the Mountain Community Center and Online plus on Saturday from 11-1 pm Central Time. If you would like to join online, please send us an email for the private Zoom link. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for reading — we’ll see you at the Deuce & the Dagurinn!
— Will Beaton, IR member since 2015.
Deuce of August - Mountain, ND, USA - 30 July - 01 August
Íslendingadagurinn - Gimli, MB, Canada - July 30 - 02 August