June 17th – Iceland’s National Day

By Heidi Herman-Kerr |

June 17th is National Day in Iceland. It is celebrated with parades, bands, and music, marking an important day to the Icelandic people world-wide, commemorating the day Iceland in 1944 when the Republic of Iceland was founded, bringing back complete Icelandic independence for the first time since 1262.

Today, we continue to honor our heritage and Icelandic spirit. The Icelandic National League of North America (INLNA) is entering a new chapter, celebrating its 100th anniversary and preparing for the next hundred years. The INLNA, a Canadian non-profit organization, is pursuing charitable status, which will provide additional avenues for funding and benefits to the organization. To expand the reach and ensure the continued ability to support and serve those clubs located in the United States, a US-based organization was needed.

Honoring the history and heritage, including the celebration of key historical dates, is of premier importance to the Icelandic National League organization. The Icelandic National League of the United States (INLUS) was established to fill that need, creating another milestone in honoring our heritage. It is fitting that we chose this day to expand the reach and share the love of our Icelandic heritage.

The INLNA and the INLUS are all-volunteer organizations that help support local Icelandic clubs and others interested in Icelandic culture and heritage through many programs. Our Member organizations are located across Canada, the United States, and Iceland. Together, the organizations offer activities such as International Tours, Icelandic Heritage Calendar, INL Reads Program, Donald K. Johnson Film Screening Program, Snorri West, the Icelandic Settlement Tours Program, and many others.

The member clubs or chapters are open to anyone with interest in Iceland or the Icelandic settlements in North America, whether of Icelandic ethnicity or not. Local activities include professional concerts, lectures, discussions, travel presentations, family picnics, children’s parties, and participation in multicultural events. Online resources planned for the INLUS include educational links and materials, online Icelandic language classes, webinars, links to local club websites as well as an activities calendar with event information across the United States. The new INLUS organization will reach out to existing independent clubs of Icelandic and Scandinavian interest, seeking partnerships in the new endeavor.

The INLUS will be a true partner working with the established and time-honored organizations, INLNA in Canada and Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga in Iceland. a Coordination Committee with representatives from the INLNA, INLUS, and INL Iceland will be created to ensure continuity of all programs. The three organizations will work together as equal partners as the INL missions continue to grow and flourish for the generations yet to come.

Iceland was settled around 860

Throughout history, under the monarchies of Norway and Denmark, Icelanders held on to their unique culture. A culture made up of unique foods, traditions that include huldufólk and jólasveinar, and a language unchanged for over a thousand years. Icelandic Parliament, The Alþingi, is one of the oldest surviving parliaments in the world, first established in 930. It was a general assembly of both legislation and judicial courts which dispensed justice. Any free man could attend, and it became an annual gathering, an integral part of Icelandic culture. In 1262, when Iceland came under Norwegian rule, the function of the Alþingi changed, but the institution survived. In 1380, Iceland became a Danish colony, and it remained so for nearly 500 years.

In 1874, King Christian IX drafted a new constitution for Iceland, providing the groundwork for self-rule as part of the 1000th Anniversary of Iceland’s settlement. King Christian IX requested the clergy to hold services on August 2 throughout Iceland to encourage the adoption of the new constitution, which was successful. A small group of Icelandic people who immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, held a celebration on August 2, 1874, to celebrate this event. While August the second was never declared a national legal holiday in Iceland, Icelandic settlers in North America celebrated “The Day of the Icelanders” on August 2nd. It is still celebrated in North America today, with the largest events being the Íslendingadagurinn in Gimli, Manitoba and August the Deuce in Mountain, North Dakota.

But that was simply the first step towards complete independence. In 1918, under King Christian X, the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union converted Iceland from a Danish overseas possession into an independent sovereign constitutional monarchy. This established the only king in Iceland’s history, Kristján X. The Parliament of Iceland asked that Denmark represent Iceland internationally, but in all other matters maintained independent rule from Reykjavík.

In 1919, the Icelandic National League of North America (INLNA) was established for Icelandic immigrants in Canada and the United States to promote heritage, culture, and traditions that the families brought to North America. It focused on strengthening the cultural bonds and kinship ties with the people of Iceland to encourage the advancement of Icelandic culture and language on the new continent. The desire to honor and maintain the Icelandic culture, language and heritage was deeply important to those in Iceland as well as in North America. That commitment has never wavered.

Jón Sigurdsson (1811-1879)

The Kristján X monarchy lasted until 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark during World War II. At the time Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, Iceland was occupied by the Allies, and a regent was assigned to represent Iceland internationally, before the Icelandic Parliament decision to sever ties with the Danish monarchy. The decision actually occurred in February 1944, but the official date of June 17th was selected to commemorate the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879), an Icelandic scholar, statesman, and leader of the Icelandic self-government effort. On June 17, 1944, the Alþingi met once more at Þingvellir, ratifying the national referendum and establishing the current constitutional republic.

History and tradition continued then as they do today. And so – to all our friends and family in North America, Iceland, and throughout the world – Happy National Day!