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All About Iceland: (FSF Cultural Exploration)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Iceland Overview

Iceland is a nation home to a largely homogenous population of Nordic and Gaelic descent. The country is in the Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle and between Greenland and Norway. It is known for its geography of glaciers and mountains. The nation’s history is tied to its continuous struggle against this harsh environment. Overcoming these hardships has created a people that are deeply proud of their Viking heritage while also being egalitarian in their attitudes toward life.

History of Iceland

Iceland’s history dates to the arrival of the Norsemen in 874 AD. Fifty years later, the country established the world’s first parliament in the country and most arable land was claimed. By 1262 a civil war on the island allowed it to be taken over by the Norwegian Crown. Over the next hundred years, the population was crippled by volcanic eruptions, poor harvests, and the arrival of the Black Death. In the 16th century, religious conflict in Denmark led Iceland to convert to Lutheranism from Catholicism. The country was again crippled in the 17th and 18th centuries, this time by Danish trading restrictions, smallpox, and the eruption of Laki Volcano. The climate inexplicably worsening in the 19th century forced roughly 15,000 of the island’s 70,000 people to emigrate to Canada.

As the disasters were ongoing, a new independence movement based on romantic nationalism took hold over Iceland. Denmark capitulated to these demands by granting the island limited sovereignty in 1874. After Germany invaded Denmark in WWII, Iceland was occupied by the British and Americans. In 1943, 97% of the population voted in favor of forming a fully independent republic separate from Denmark. In 1994, the country began to liberalize and diversify its economy due to signing into the European Economic Area. It has since had a growing role in international affairs focused on peacekeeping and humanitarian issues. The country’s success was undercut in 2008 when an economic bust caused all three of its commercial banks to fail. The country has since begun to recover and stabilize from this crisis.

Icelandic Societal and Cultural Values

Iceland’s long and harsh history of facing harsh conditions has resulted in a strong social cohesion in society. This is expressed through its society being mostly classless and by friends and families maintaining regular contact with each other. This can also be seen on the surface in due to great value being placed on self-sufficiency, strong work ethic, and independence.

The basic household is the nuclear family with larger kin groups coming together for annual reunions. Due to both parents typically working during the day, daycare services are commonplace. Children are highly valued, with public health nurses commonly visiting homes to ensure children are healthy and free of abuse and basic education being both compulsory and free.

Icelandic culture is strongly rooted in Norse traditions and commonly expressed through its Sagas and ancient literature tracing back to the 13th century. This stems from it embracing its early literary heritage and traditional crafts. This is commonly seen through the telling of legends and folk tales with belief in folklore being respected across the country. An example of this is Yuletide Lads, the sons of a fearful child-eating hag named Griga and her troll husband, being on the prowl in the advent of Christmas motivating children to be good to avoid being eaten.


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