The first Monday of August is a public holiday here in Iceland, known as Commerce Day (a.k.a Tradesmen’s Day or Merchant’s Holiday). In Icelandic, it is called Fridagur verslunarmanna. Icelanders get really excited about this holiday. Since it always falls on Monday, it means you get a long weekend off, and it is not unusual to take extra days off. Therefore, let’s go over some traditions and what to expect if you are traveling during the Commerce Weekend.
So, what exactly is Commerce Day? Well, they imported the idea from Denmark, and while it died out there, the tradition is going strong in Iceland. The first holiday took place on September 13th. 1984. That day unions and owners of the most popular shops in Reykjavik agreed to give commercial workers a day off as a thank you for working and serving communities all year round.
However, it took some time for them to settle what time of year the holiday should take place. It was held on different dates between September and August, until 1931, when everybody agreed to settle on the first Monday of August. My personal theory is they just tried to figure out what day statistically has the best weather because having a day in winter or fall is not nearly as fun as having a holiday during summer.
The long Commerce Day weekend is one of the busiest travel weekends and a jam-packed weekend for campsites. It is kind of the last big hoopla of summer, after which everybody ends their summer holidays and goes back to work or school. To celebrate the end of summer (kind of), many locals will pack up their tents, RVs, and campers and leave the town, making it the unofficial camping holiday.
Usually, many activities and concerts are happening all over the country. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, many got canceled this year. However, the two most popular ones will take place as planned with some COVID-19 restrictions.
The biggest celebration of the Commerce Day Weekend is Þjóðhátíð or the National Festival on the Westman Islands.
The first festival was held in 1874 – way before the first Commerce Day – to celebrate 1000 years since the settlement of Iceland. Locals couldn’t make it to the events on the mainland due to bad weather, so they decided to create their own party. As they say – when life gives you lemons… I guess Westman Islanders really know how to party because today it is one of the biggest festivals in Iceland. A little over 4000 residents live there, yet they host a party for 11.000 – 13.000 guests every year.
If you were planning to visit Westman Islands this weekend, you might have a hard time finding a spot on a ferry. Even though the festival doesn’t start until Friday, people start flocking well before to make sure to have a camping space. If you want to learn more about the festival and maybe contemplating attending it, you can find more information and tickets here. Updated: the National Festival 2021 has been postponed due to the increased number of COVID-19 cases.
If everybody leaves Reykjavik to go camping, does that mean the city is left empty? Not at all! The capital has its own 3-day music celebration known as Innipúkinn. Innipúkinn literally translates as “Indoor Demon.” It is for those who do not fancy reconnecting with nature (I assume you won’t find many Happy Campers there). Even though the festival takes place only in two venues, the atmosphere usually spills out to the streets of downtown. Interested? You can find the line-up and the tickets here.
In conclusion, you probably got the point that the Commerce Day weekend is a big deal. Therefore, just like with many bank holidays, you may have to adjust your plans. Here are some tips: