New Year's Day. This is really a 2-day holiday, as nothing reopens until January 3. January 1.
Tþrettándinn. This day marks the end of the Christmas season. Icelanders celebrate with a kind of New Year's Eve reprise, including bonfires, fireworks, and traditional songs, while kids throw snowballs at cars. January 6.
Tþorrablót. This ancient Viking mid-winter tradition -- named for Tþorri, a month in the old Icelandic calendar -- was originally a feast of sacrifice involving the blood of oxen and goats. Contemporary celebrations involve dancing, singing, drinking, and eating traditional Norse specialties, including singed sheep's head, pickled rams' testicles, and putrefied shark. Tþorrablót dinners can be found in some Reykjavík restaurants; in smaller towns, visitors are often invited to join the locals. From the Friday that falls within January 19 to January 25 through most of February.
Food and Fun (www.foodandfun.is). For 4 days Reykjavík's best restaurants create discounted set menus. In a televised competition, top international chefs are challenged to create dishes on the spot from purely Icelandic ingredients. Late February.
Winter Lights Festival (www.visitreykjavik.is). Reykjavík is dramatically lit up for this cornucopia of cultural events: anything from fashion shows to figure skating to outdoor choral performances to belly-dancing troupes. Late February.
Bolludagur. "Bun Day" is celebrated by eating cream puffs (bollur) in multiple varieties. In the morning children aim to catch their parents still in bed, and then beat them with colorfully decorated "bun wands" (bolluvondur). Parents are then obligated to give their children one cream puff for each blow received. Monday before Ash Wednesday.
Sprengidagur. The name of this holiday translates to "bursting day" and is celebrated by eating salted meat and peas to the point of popping. Many restaurants participate. Day before Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday (Öskudagur). Children dress in costume and traipse around town singing for candy. It's much like Halloween, and also a day for pranks. Seventh Wednesday before Easter.
Beer Day. This unofficial holiday marks the anniversary of Iceland's 1989 legalization of beer with an alcohol content above 2.2%. Guess how it's celebrated. March 1.
Easter Sunday. Easter holds special meaning in Iceland, as it marks the end of the long, dark winter. Most workers get a full 5 days off, from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, and closures cause difficulties for tourists. Families gather and celebrate with smoked lamb and huge chocolate eggs. Easter weekend is especially lively in Ísafjörður, the cultural center of the Westfjords, with skiing competitions and the "I Never Went South" rock music festival. March or April.
First Day of Summer. Summer starts early in the old Icelandic calendar. The end of long winter nights is celebrated with gift-giving, parades, street entertainment, and sporting events. The Thursday that falls within April 19 to April 25.
Reykjavík Arts Festival (www.artfest.is). For 16 days Reykjavík is swept up in this government-sponsored event. Many international artists and performers are included. Mid-May.
Rite of Spring Festival (www.riteofspring.is). Premiering in 2006 and sometimes overlapping with the Reykjavík Arts Festival, this privately run event focuses more exclusively on cutting-edge folk, jazz, and world music. Mid-May.
Seafarer's Day & Festival of the Sea. This holiday honors those who make their living by the sea, and is celebrated across the country with parades, cultural events, great seafood, and rowdy parties. Fishermen partake in rescue demonstrations, swimming and rowing races, and various strongman competitions. "Festival of the Sea" is the local celebration in Reykjavík, which may take place the following weekend. First weekend of June.
National Day. This public holiday marks Iceland's full independence from Denmark in 1944. The day starts off on a solemn and patriotic note, but by afternoon crowds have flocked to the streets to watch parades, traditional dancing, street performers, and theatrical entertainment. (One of the most meaningful gatherings is at Tþingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic parliament first assembled in 930.) Each town celebrates in its own way, so check locally for details. June 17.
Summer Solstice (www.fi.is). On the longest day of the year, many Icelanders gather late at night to watch the sun dip below the horizon and scoop back up again shortly afterward. Formally organized events are rare, but visitors are usually welcome to join local celebrations. Each year Ferðafélag Íslands organizes an all-night climb up the volcano Hekla. June 21.
Arctic Open (www.arcticopen.is). This 4-day championship golfing tournament in Akureyri, open to professionals and amateurs, continues into the morning hours under the midnight sun. Late June.
Viking Festival (www.fjorukrain.is). For 10 days, modern-day Viking hordes descend on Hafnarfjörður, a town neighboring Reykjavík, for traditional crafts, merrymaking in period costume, and staged battles with Christian forces. While some participants are Scandinavians, more are Britons and Germans: the Vikings' historic victims. The festival began in 1995 and is run by Hafnarfjörður's Viking Village hotel and restaurant. Between weekends it moves to Sauðárkrókur on the north coast. Mid-June.
Akureyri Summer Arts Festival (www.akureyri.is). For 10 weeks in summer, Iceland's "northern capital" hosts an assortment of concerts and exhibitions in venues across town. Late June to August.
Verslunarmannahelgi (August Long Weekend or Bank Holiday Weekend). On this party weekend, Icelanders often leave town and camp out en masse. The most well-known destination is the Westman Islands, where locals join thousands of visitors at the campgrounds to hear live bands and gather round the bonfire into the morning hours. Plenty of events also take place in towns. First weekend in August.
Gay Pride (www.gaypride.is). The biggest Pride event in Iceland includes a parade, concerts, theater, and all-night parties. Second weekend in August.
Reykjavík Marathon and Culture Night (www.marathon.is). Surely the 3,500 participants in Reykjavík's annual marathon appreciate the purity of the air. Runners can choose between the full marathon, a half-marathon, a 10km (6 mile) run, or 7km (4 mile) and 3km (2 mile) "fun runs." The rest of the day and night are loaded with free concerts and cultural events, and once it's reasonably dark, a fireworks display kicks off. Third weekend in August.
Reykjavík Jazz Festival (www.jazz.is). Icelandic and international groups in a variety of styles play clubs and theaters across town. End of August/early September.
Reykjavík Dance Festival (www.dancefestival.is). Contemporary choreographers from around the world are invited to participate in this 4-day event. End of August/early September.
Annual Sheep and Horse Roundup (Réttir). See "The Big Round-Up." Early and late September.
Reykjavík International Film Festival (www.filmfest.is). This 10-day event includes film classics, premieres, retrospectives, seminars, and workshops. Late September or early October.
Iceland Airwaves (www.icelandairwaves.com). This 3-day showcase of Iceland's alternative/indie musical talent (with a few international bands thrown in) attracts more visitors to Iceland than any other event. Crowds are thick with notepad-wielding journalists and talent scouts; when the bands are through, top DJs spin until dawn. Icelandair sponsors Airwaves and arranges special packages from Europe and America. Mid-October.
Christmas season. In late December, Icelanders only get 4 or 5 hours of daylight, which could explain their enthusiasm for Christmas and its lights. Icelandic children count the 13 days leading up to the holiday with a group of "yuletide lads," all offspring of a grotesque troll named Grýla. (In traditional lore Grýla ate naughty children, but, in the 18th century, threatening them with Grýla was outlawed.) Each day from December 12 to December 24, a different lad descends from the mountains into human homes. Each lad is named for the mischief he gets into: Sausage Snatcher, Door Slammer, Bowl Licker, and so on. At bedtime children leave a shoe in the window, and wake up to find a small present from the nighttime visitor. From Christmas Day through January 6 they come in succession all over again.
New Year's Eve. Private use of fireworks is legal this 1 night only, and the entire citizenry sets the skies ablaze in celebration. (Reykjavík is a particularly chaotic sight.) Oceanside bonfires are another New Year's ritual. For a more refined experience in Reykjavík, try the trumpet and organ recital in Hallgrímskirkja.