Öskudagur or Ash Wednesday is the first day of lent and follows Bolludagur (Bun day Monday) and Sprengidagur (Bursting Tuesday). Expect to see children dressed up in costumes and singing in shops in exchange for some candy. This is not the Icelandic version of Halloween although both holidays have something to do with children, costumes and candy. Whereas Halloween is a pagan tradition, Öskudagur originates in Catholicism.
Bag of ash
A unique Icelandic tradition is to secretly hang little bags of ash on the back of unsuspecting people. This tradition is believed to have developed from the catholic church from when a priest would draw a cross with ash on peoples forehead as they contemplated their sins. The ash was considered holy and churchgoers would bring it with them back in little bags to bless the home.
In the early 19th century this tradition became like sending a Valentines card and you’d hang a bag on the person you had a crush on. For the last century this has primarily been a children’s tradition where they dress up and try to hang the bags on grown ups and each other. The most exciting thing is if you manage to hang the bag without getting caught and see them walk around unsuspecting. Rascals!
Today the ash bags are not as prominent as they used to be but the children get the day off from school and put a lot of creativity into their costumes.