Þorrablót is a midwinter festival held during the old Icelandic month of Þorri. The month begins the last Friday of January. It was the 13th week of winter according to the old Icelandic calendar.
The oldest Þorrablót reference
The oldest reference to the festival is in a 12th-century book called How Norway was Settled. It states that the Finnic group Kvens offered a yearly sacrifice to Þorri (meaning Frost) at midwinter.
However, the modern festival involves eating traditional Icelandic food. Until recently, it was just regular food. It became a thing during the Romantic nationalism era of the 19th century and was organized by Icelandic students in Copenhagen in 1873, the year before Icelanders got their first constitution. During their celebrations they recited poems, often to honor Þór, the Norse god of thunder.
It was not until the 1960s that Þorrablót gained popularity with Icelanders. It was when the restaurant Naustið started advertising platters with Icelandic food. Since then it has become increasingly popular, and people hold their Þorrablót at home. There, people invite the extended family, or go to a planned event either at a restaurant or a community center. The celebrations usually last well into the night, with music, singing, and other merriment.
The Þorramatur (Þorrablót food)
The food on offer is not to everyone’s taste. It includes sour ram testicles, sour whale blubber, sour seal’s flippers, liver sausage, blood sausage, hangikjöt (smoked lamb) and flatkökur (flatbread). As well as fermented Greenland shark, rye bread, lundabaggi (sheep’s loins wrapped in the meat from the sides, pressed and cured in lactic acid) dried fish and svið (a boiled, singed sheepshead).
Brennvín, a clear, unsweetened schnapps, is, for many, an indispensable part of Þorrablót. People drink it ice-cold in shot glasses and often with the fermented shark.
It is possible to taste the shark and Brennivín in many restaurants in Reykjavík, all year round.