Every 17 June is Iceland’s Independence Day, also sometimes called Icelandic National Day. The holiday looks back to the day in 1944 when Iceland gained its independence from the Kingdom of Denmark and became a republic.
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However, the date for independence was also carefully chosen so as to fall on Jon Sigurdsson’s birthday. Sigurdsson is a practically legendary figure in Icelandic culture and was the main leader of the push for Icelandic independence in the 1800’s.
Icelanders voted for independence in a referendum held in 1944. The vote was held based on provisions in the Act of Union with Denmark, dating to 1918, that allowed for moves toward independence to be made. Given that Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany at the time and that the U.S. and U.K. occupied Iceland, everything was not done “to the letter”, but the exiled king of Denmark, Christian X, nonetheless recognised Iceland’s independence.
Once independent, Iceland’s president simply took the place of the King of Denmark in the nation’s rule, but most other things remained the same in Iceland’s constitution.
Iceland keeps its independence day with parades led by brass bands, Icelandic horsemen and flag-bearing scouts. Speeches are given as well, one of which is delivered by “The Woman of the Mountain”, who symbolises Iceland’s fierce fighting spirit. And there is live music, candy given out to children to consume in enormous amounts, and the release of balloons into the big Icelandic sky.