Why Iceland celebrates Beer Day

Magazine Why Iceland celebrates Beer Day

Icelanders sure know how to make the best of everything: there’s a day for men (bóndadagur), a day for women (konudagur), a day for buns (bolludagur) and a day for beer, of course (bjordagur) – all within the three first months of the year!

The history of the beer day starts with the history of the Icelandic prohibition. In 1908 Icelanders voted for a ban on all alcoholic drinks and a total prohibition was in effect from 1915 to 1921. That’s when the Spanish made things ”difficult”. Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, if Iceland didn’t buy Spanish wines. Due to these trade-related issues Iceland lifted the ban of spirits in 1935.

Strong beer (with alcohol volume of 2.25% or more) was not included in the allowed substances, because since it was cheaper, it was believed it would lead to more social problems. Bars tried to go around the beer ban by adding legal spirits into light beer, or pilsner, which is just as horrible as it sounds!

Eventually, with a growing opposition of the prohibition, Iceland’s Parliament Althingi voted to lift the ban of beer – as late as 1989. But why worry about all those years you couldn’t drink beer legally, when you can make the legalizing of it a new celebration! The first beer day celebrations were televised nationally and showed Icelanders enjoying their new found beerdom in, what BBC described as ”rowdy” and ”bacchanalian” way. Like vikings would.

Today the celebrations are perhaps a bit more low-key now that the novelty has worn off. Also the Icelanders aren’t as big consumers of alcohol as their reputation would have you expect: an average Icelander of over 15 years old drinks about 7.1 liters of pure alcohol per year (WHO, 2014), which is considerably less than in many other European countries (Finland, Denmark and the UK for example exceed 10 litres each). The Beer Day in Iceland isn’t so much celebrated in an organized way but by just going out with your friends to the nearest pub for a pint. So if you are around on March 1, you have a great reason to go out and buy some local brew! Skál!

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