Today, December 1, is Iceland’s Sovereignty Day. This day in 1918, the country was declared a free and sovereign state, after being under Danish rule. For some time, Denmark remained in charge of foreign affairs, and Iceland continued to be part of the Kingdom of Denmark until the Republic of Iceland was established in 1944. Then, June 17 was adopted as the country’s National Day, and replaced December 1 as such. June 17 was chosen to honor Jón Sigurðsson, the leader of the independence movement, but this was his birthday.
For decades, December 1 remained a day off in the country’s schools, but that is no longer the case. The day remains one of the days when the Icelandic flag is flown.
The day Iceland celebrated its sovereignty in 1918, the atmosphere was solemn. Festivities were held in the shadow of the Spanish flue, which plagued the country and claimed hundreds of lives. In addition, an eruption in Katla volcano had begun on October 12 with serious consequences. Finally, the previous winter, 1917-1918, had been the coldest on record and was called the Winter of the Great Frost. Thus, the circumstances were exceptionally difficult on the day the country became a free and sovereign state.