June 17, 1944 – Icelandic National Day

The date to commemorate the founding of Iceland and its independence from Danish rule was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879), a major figure of Icelandic culture and the leader of the 20th Century Icelandic independence movement.

Jón Sigurðsson

Jón Sigurðsson

In actuality, the Icelandic Parliament decided to sever ties with the Danish monarchy in February, 1944. Iceland had been self-governing since 1918, but during the Second World War, when Iceland was occupied by the Allies and Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, Iceland unilaterally decided to declare full independence from Copenhagen.

A law was passed that between May 20 and 23, 1944, a national referendum would take place to confirm or reject Parliament’s decision. An overwhelming majority voted for independence and a new constitution.

national_day_iceland_0

A Republican celebration was held in Þingvellir on this day in history. Þingvellir, anglicized as Thingvellir, is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance to Iceland. Alþingi (Althing in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park) was founded in 1930, marking the 1,000th anniversary of the Althing. It was later expanded in order to protect natural resources in the surrounding area, and became a World Heritage Site in 2004.

According to the Iceland Review, the National Day is usually celebrated across the country with parades led by marching bands and scouts following as color guard.

Ceremonies often include an address or poetry reading by a woman dressed as Fjallkonan (‘The Mountain Woman’), wearing Iceland’s most festive national dress. Fjallkonan represents the Icelandic spirit and nature and became a symbolic figure in Iceland’s fight for independence.

The first surviving drawing of the Lady of the Mountains, Johann Baptist Zwecker, from Icelandic Legends (1866)

The first surviving drawing of the Lady of the Mountains, Johann Baptist Zwecker, from Icelandic Legends (1866)

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