This April 19th, Seven Trees will be wishing everyone a Happy Harpa!
Our viking ancestors divided the year into two seasons, Náttleysi (“Nightless days”) and Skammdegi (“Short days”). Harpa (possibly a Scandinavian goddess) is the name of the first month of summer, roughly coinciding with mid-April to mid-May.
The holiday celebrated on this day has multiple names – Sumarsdag, Sumardagurinn fyrsti, and Sigrblot. Many summer-kickoff observances were all about fertility, invoking bountiful crops and productive livestock in the up-coming warm season. But Sigrblot (“victory sacrifice”) was intended to bring success and luck to warriors, since summer also heralded the onset of fighting/raiding season.
The Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle details some of the less-warlike traditions of Sumarsdag:
People also used to give summer gifts on the First Day of Summer in Iceland, four centuries before Christmas presents became a tradition, and the summer gift tradition is still practiced in some households. People celebrated with a feast, often more elaborate than on Christmas Eve.
Farmers took a break from their hard work and children were allowed to play with their friends from the neighboring farms. The day was dedicated to young women and to children (it is also known as Children’s Day). On this day young men would often reveal whom they fancied.
Another tradition on the First Day of Summer, called húslestur, involved people getting together and listening to readings from the Icelandic sagas, poems or other literature.
If the weather was warm, farmers would let their cattle and rams out, to allow the animals to greet summer, and to also entertain themselves by watching the animals play.
People used to go to mass on the First Day of Summer until the mid-18th century when the inspectors of the Danish church authority discovered that mass was being held on this heathen day and banned the practice.
According to legend, people considered it a good sign if summer and winter “froze together” (if there was frost on the last night before summer).
People would put a bowl filled with water outside to check whether it had frozen in the early hours of the next morning, before the morning sun could melt it. If the water had frozen, the summer would be a good one.
Curious about what Vikings might have eaten on feast days (or any day)? The Viking Answer Lady has a very informative page on Viking Foods.
The Rosala Viking Centre in Finland hosts authentic blot feasts, as well as many other viking-related activities. If you can’t visit in person, their extensive website, full of evocative pictures, is definitely worth exploring.