They say timing is everything. Regarding travel planning, this saying is especially true in order to maximize a destination’s essence. Plan now for a unique experience: celebrate New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik, Iceland. The northernmost capital of the world is the quirky yet chic city where a historic tradition becomes the place where two years meet (called Amaratabrennur). It occurs at the bonfire and fireworks celebration; this ritualistic cleansing burns away the past year and ushers in the new one with its catharsis.
All corners of the city view the fireworks, while many gather at bonfires starting at 8 p.m. Don’t confuse this for a campfire-sized blaze … it’s the largest bonfire you’ll ever experience. Crowds assemble, bands perform on stage and the radiance of roaring fire’s heat will be felt on your cheeks as you gaze into the inferno.
In the center of the bonfire is the enigmatic Aegishjalmur symbol, burning with Norse pride. This rune symbolizes protection for warriors and resembles a shield with eight wands around its center. Serving as a spiritual compass, Aegishjalmur is aglow within this orange blaze, unifying winter-clad spectators preparing for a midnight display. After the communal circle of people marvel at the bonfire in a crescendo of excitement, they transition to champagne and Kleinur pastry for a midnight snack.
First of all, it’s midnight in Iceland. Absorb that visual for awhile, then try to comprehend the amount of fireworks being discussed here: 500-600 tons of fireworks filling the sky. The nation’s approximately 365,000 inhabitants are involved in this tradition, some spending an entire month’s salary on these pyrotechnics. Children and adults in these wee morning hours are mesmerized with the smoldering flames, raging bonfire and incendiary exhibition. While there are many vantage points for this event, the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church is one that happens to be a focal point of the city-center. This writer’s experience was at a vast field not far from town.
The fireworks splurge supports the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams, which are run by volunteers. Many cultures consider noise and fire as ways to purge evil spirits and invite good luck, but this specific ritual emphasizes the flames disintegrating wood as a symbolism of renewal. Mythology claims that elves and trolls emerge from their hidden dwellings to meld into the magical night with their mischief. Be prepared to enjoy the ruckus until dawn. It only reinforces the jubilance and pomp of this town’s culture.
During the day, stroll through the square of cozy, snug coffeehouses, cafes and beguiling boutiques. Amble through the colorful, whimsical streets to reach aforementioned Hallgrimskirkja Church. Ascend the grandiose tower for the best view of the city. Visit Solfarid (the Sun Voyager) sculpture on the shore. This art masterpiece, given in honor of the 200th anniversary of Reyjavik, incorporates the Aegishjalmur symbol. Resembling a Viking ship representation, it’s actually the rune curved inward. The symmetry of appreciating this symbol amidst ocean waves after experiencing it in the wilderness night fire defines this moment of Icelandia.
Twinkle lights strewn across buildings form a canopy of decor around town. Christmas trees affixed to buildings, decorated street lamps and candelabras glowing inside windows are distinctive Reykjavik visuals inspiring this winter wonderland.