Today is Icelandic independence day

Today, the 17th June, is the day Iceland celebrates its full independence every year.

The Republic of Iceland was formally declared at Thingvellir on 17th June 1944 after an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in a national referendum. Iceland had been self-governing since 1918; but during the Second World War, when Iceland was occupied by the Allies and Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, Iceland unilaterally decided to declare full independence from Copenhagen.

Since Icelandic independence, Copenhagen and Reykjavik have been close friends and allies. The Icelandic constitution is even nearly identical to the Danish one — although a constitutional council is currently working to give Iceland a new, up-to-date constitution.

The date of Iceland’s national day is no coincidence; timed to coincide with Jon Sigurdsson’s birthday. Jon Sigurdsson was one of Iceland’s greatest heroes in the struggle for independence. A learned man, he lived much of his life in Denmark and was popular among Danes and Icelanders alike. His steadfast and reasoned approach, coupled with generosity, empathy and approachability earned him many friends and the respect of all around him — and did the Icelandic independence movement a great service. Although Sigurdsson was dead by 1944, Independence Day is still celebrated to honour his birthday — and no more so than this year.

Today marks 200 years since the birth of Jon Sigurdsson at the small and remote Hrafnseyri farm in the Westfjords. Both the Icelandic President and Prime Minister will be in the Westfjords today to visit Hrafnseyri and take part in celebrations there in a marked change to usual 17th June protocol.

If you are in Iceland, you will find celebrations in almost every town and village today, and central Reykjavik will be completely filled with revellers. There will be speeches, fair ground rides, live music, street theatre and much more. You can see Jon Sigurdsson on the 500kr banknotes in your pocket…

Til hamingju með Þjóðhátíðardaginn!

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