Ever wonder about that strange word your Norwegian friend tosses around on their birthday? Iversær refers to the Norwegian custom of celebrating birthdays, especially milestone ones. For as long as anyone can remember, Norwegians have gathered friends and family to recognize another year passing. Not just any celebration, mind you, but a proper festivity with cake, coffee, snacks, songs, and of course, gifts.
Turning 50? Time for an iversær. Hitting 60? Another iversær. The big milestones of 70, 80, 90 and 100? You better believe that calls for an iversær. While the traditions around a standard birthday—or fødselsdag—have relaxed over time, iversær maintains its place as an important cultural custom recognizing life’s big moments.
What started as a simple acknowledgement of aging has blossomed into an opportunity to connect communities. An iversær says “we’re all in this together, let’s support each other.” And really, what better reason do you need to throw a party? An iversær gives Norwegians a perfect excuse to bake a cake, put on a pot of coffee, and celebrate life.
What Is Iversær?
What Is Iversær?
Iversær is an old Scandinavian tradition of celebrating the anniversary of a loved one’s death. On the anniversary (called iversær in Danish), friends and family will gather to honor and remember the deceased.
The custom dates back hundreds of years and was originally a solemn affair. These days, iversær is more of a celebration of life. Family and friends will share happy memories, look through old photos, and raise a glass in the memory of the loved one who passed. Some may visit the gravesite, lay flowers, or just spend time reflecting on the impact that person had on their lives.
For some, iversær is an annual event, while for others it may happen less frequently over time. There’s no set way to observe iversær. Do what feels right for you and helps you feel close to the loved one you’re honoring. That could be:
- Sharing a favorite meal you used to enjoy together.
- Listening to music that reminds you of them.
- Looking through old letters, cards or journals.
- Simply sitting quietly and thinking of the good times you shared.
Iversær is a chance to celebrate life and the special people who shaped our own. Though sorrow may remain, the pain lessens over the years. What’s left are the happy memories and knowledge of how blessed we were to have them in our lives, even if only for a while. Iversær allows us to honor that blessing.
The Origins and History of Iversær
The tradition of Iversær dates back many centuries to the Viking era in Scandinavia. Originally, Iversær was a midwinter sacrifice held during the winter solstice to honor the god Odin in hopes of a good harvest.
Over time, as Christianity spread through Scandinavia, Iversær evolved into a celebration held around Christmas time. The midwinter sacrifice was replaced with a feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus. However, many of the pagan symbols and rituals were incorporated into the Christian celebration.
Ancient roots, modern traditions
The ancient Viking festival focused on fertility, family, and the hope for longer, warmer days as the winter solstice passed. Many of these themes continue in the modern Iversær celebration. Families and friends gather together for a big meal, often featuring traditional Scandinavian fare like cured meats, fish, root vegetables, and rice pudding. An Iversær celebration also traditionally involves the exchanging of small gifts, singing carols, and hanging evergreen wreaths and garlands.
While Iversær today is strongly associated with Christianity and the Christmas season, its pagan roots in the Viking midwinter sacrifice live on in many of the most cherished and time-honored Iversær traditions. By honoring both the Christian and pagan influences on this long-standing Scandinavian custom, Iversær allows us to connect with history and bring light to the winter season.
Iversær Traditions and Customs
Iversær traditions and customs are an important part of Faroese culture. Some of the most well-known iversær traditions include:
It’s customary to give small gifts like flowers, chocolates or a card to close family and friends on your iversær. Faroese people value relationships greatly, so iversær is a perfect time to show appreciation for the people in your life.
No iversær celebration is complete without a cake. Traditionally, an iversær cake is a sponge cake filled with custard or fruit and topped with icing and the person’s name or initials. Baking a cake for someone on their iversær shows you care.
Friends and family will often sing the traditional Faroese iversær song “Mínir árar” (My Years) for the person celebrating their iversær. Hearing this song sung by loved ones on your special day is truly heartwarming.
Some people choose to raise the Faroese flag on their iversær to commemorate their birthday and express national pride. The flag is a meaningful symbol of Faroese identity.
Iversær is meant to be celebrated with the people who matter most. Friends and family will gather together for a meal, drinks or cake to recognize the person’s iversær, share memories and further strengthen their bonds.
Iversær traditions have endured for generations and continue to be an important part of cultural identity in the Faroe Islands. Honoring these long-held customs on your iversær shows respect for Faroese heritage.
Celebrating Iversær Today
Celebrating Iversær Today
These days, Iversær is still celebrated by many, though the traditions have evolved. Families will gather together for a special dinner to honor their ancestors and share memories of loved ones who have passed. Some choose to prepare traditional Danish foods like frikadeller (meatballs), æbleskiver (pancake balls), or rødgrød med fløde (fruit pudding).
Others like to observe the day by visiting local cemeteries to pay respects at the graves of family members. Grave sites are decorated with wreaths of fir branches, evergreen foliage, or fresh or silk flowers. Some people will place a lit candle on the grave to signify remembering the light that person brought to their lives.
Many towns and cities also hold memorial church services on Iversær. These non-denominational gatherings allow community members to come together collectively and reflect on loss in a supportive atmosphere. Readings, songs, and moments of silence are common parts of such services.
While Iversær traditions are still meaningful for many, some families have created their own unique ways of honoring ancestors that better match their beliefs and values. Some will do acts of service in their loved one’s memory, like donating to a charity they supported or volunteering their time. Others will share photos or tell stories about the people they’ve lost as a way to keep their memory alive.
However you choose to observe Iversær, whether through time-honored traditions or new customs of your own, take comfort in knowing you are part of a long line of people who have found solace and meaning in pausing to remember those who are gone but not forgotten. Though sorrowful, these moments of reflection can also be an occasion for togetherness, gratitude and love.
The Evolution and Modern Practice of Iversær
Over time, the tradition of Iversær has evolved to keep up with the changing world. While the core idea of honoring your ancestors remains, many of the rituals and practices look quite different today.
These days, Iversær is commonly celebrated on the Sunday closest to November 1st, All Saints’ Day. Families will gather together for a special meal, light candles in memory of loved ones who have passed, and share stories of their lives and legacy. Some create small altars with photos, flowers, and favorite belongings of late relatives.
Rather than an entire day of fasting, today people may choose to give up one indulgence, like coffee or sweets, as a symbolic gesture. Donating time or money to a charity or cause that was meaningful to a deceased loved one has also become popular. These acts of sacrifice and service honor the memory of those who came before us in a way that still fits with contemporary lifestyles.
While community festivals and lavish feasts were once central to Iversær, most observations now take place privately within families. However, some towns and organizations do host public memorial events, speeches, or concerts on the day. Cemeteries throughout the land are also decorated with candles and flowers as people visit the gravesites of their departed loved ones.
Though Iversær may look different in modern times, its purpose remains the same. Setting aside a day each year to remember, reflect and reconnect with cherished loved ones who have passed on gives us perspective and helps keep their stories alive. Honoring the dead and celebrating the eternal bond between generations is a custom that persists, even as the world moves on.
Popular Locations for Iversær Celebrations in Norway
Norway has some popular locations where Iversær is traditionally celebrated. Many Norwegians travel to these places to fully experience the cultural festivities.
The Geirangerfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its picturesque landscapes. During Iversær, the fjord comes alive with folk music, dancing, and food. People gather at the piers and along the shores of the fjord to watch orchestras play traditional tunes, choirs sing, and dancers perform traditional routines. Fresh seafood like salmon, cod, and shrimp are popular menu items. The scenic fjord provides a stunning backdrop for the cultural celebrations.
Bergen, a port city on Norway’s west coast, hosts many Iversær events at the historic Bryggen wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Musicians play traditional tunes like “Ja, Vi Elsker” and people join in dancing the reinlender, a traditional folk dance. Fresh fish markets sell plenty of seafood. Many people wear bunads, Norway’s traditional outfits, and gather to watch choirs sing and orchestras play. Fireworks over the harbor provide a spectacular ending to the festivities.
Oslo, Norway’s capital city, comes alive for Iversær. Major events are held at Akershus Fortress, a historic castle, and along the Akerselva river. There are concerts, dances, food, and family activities. A popular event is the barnetog, a children’s parade where kids march through the city streets waving Norwegian flags and wearing bunads or other traditional outfits. The parade ends at the Royal Palace where the children give flowers to the royal family on the balcony. Fireworks and bonfires conclude the celebrations.
FAQ: Common Questions About Iversær
FAQ: Common Questions About Iversær
What exactly is Iversær?
Iversær is an old custom that marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It signifies that the days are getting longer and brighter. Iversær comes from old Norse and literally means ‘even’ and ‘night’, referring to the equal amounts of day and night on this day.
When is Iversær celebrated?
Iversær is celebrated on February 2nd. This midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox typically falls around the first week of February in the Northern Hemisphere.
Why do people celebrate Iversær?
Iversær is a time of hope and renewal. After enduring the long, dark winter, people look forward to longer and brighter days. Iversær signifies that spring is on its way and warmer weather will soon return. People often celebrate this day by decorating with candles, spending time outdoors, and preparing special meals.
Are there any traditions associated with Iversær?
Yes, there are several traditions connected to Iversær:
- Lighting candles to symbolize illumination and new beginnings.
- Flying kites to represent the arrival of spring breezes.
- Preparing seed cakes or other treats containing seeds to represent new growth.
- Doing spring cleaning to freshen homes in anticipation of the new season.
- Hanging yellow ribbons or garlands to reflect the sun’s return.
- Going for walks outside to enjoy the increasing daylight.
Iversær is an old custom that continues to be celebrated as a sign of brighter days ahead. Though simple, the traditions and symbolism around this day provide feelings of optimism and joy after a long winter.
So there you have it, the origins of iversær and how this age-old tradition came to be such an important part of culture. While its roots may lie in more solemn ceremonies of the past, today iversær is really about coming together with loved ones to celebrate another year of life and all the moments, big and small, that made it meaningful. Though the specific rituals and symbols have evolved over time, at its heart, iversær represents what matters most – the relationships and memories we share with one another. As long as that spirit of togetherness and gratitude continues to shape its meaning, iversær will surely remain an cherished custom for generations to come.