Iceland: A Northern Light

Colorful rooftops in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. (Photo by Bjorn Giesenbauer via Wikimedia Commons)
Colorful rooftops in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. (Photo by Bjorn Giesenbauer via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1944, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark and became a republic.

Here are some things you may not have known about Iceland.

Iceland is located in the northern Atlantic Ocean, between Scandinavia and Greenland.

The first permanent settler was Ingolfr Arnarson, who arrived on the island in 874. By 930, the Icelandic parliament was formed and in 1000 Christianity arrived.

In 1262 the country was brought under the Norwegian crown, eventually passing to Denmark. For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, Iceland was the subject to a trade monopoly with Denmark. This, combined with volcanic eruptions and disease led to a decrease in population. A cooling climate in the 19th century led more than 20 percent of the population to leave for North America.

In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland limited home rule and in 1918, Iceland was recognized as a sovereign state in a personal union with Denmark.

During World War II, Denmark and Iceland attempted to remain neutral. Denmark was occupied by Germany in April 1940, and Great Britain invaded and occupied Iceland a month later. The then-neutral United States took over as Iceland’s occupying force in 1941 to allow Britain to use its troops elsewhere.

The 25-year personal union ended in 1944, and 97 percent of the Icelandic population voted to end the union permanently, and 95 percent voted in favor of forming a republic. The Allied occupation of Iceland ended in 1946 and the country became a member of NATO in 1949, despite having no army and only a small coast guard for national defense. American troops remained in Iceland through the Cold War, the last leaving in 2006.

Iceland saw economic growth after the war as its fishing industry became industrialized. The country was also the largest per capita beneficiary of the American Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe, receiving $209 per person, almost double the second largest beneficiary.

Reykjavik, the capital, was the site of a summit meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, which led to reductions in nuclear weapons in both countries.

In 2001, Iceland’s banks were deregulated and started becoming a major force in the country’s economy. By 2007, the banks had taken on so much debt that its entire banking system failed in October 2008 as part of a worldwide financial crisis. The failure led to a depression, political unrest and governmental austerity policies. The economy has stabilized since, largely thanks to an increasing tourism industry.

Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world. Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital. It has a population of about 330,000, or roughly the same as the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. Most of the population lives in the southwestern area in and around Reykjavik.

Iceland is one of the rare western countries that uses a patronymic and matronymic naming system. For example, the daughter of Jon Peterson would be Jane Jonsdottir. Because of the system, most Icelanders are known by their given name and are listed in the telephone directory by their first names. I used the present tense, because I’m assuming they still have telephone directories.

Our question: What is considered Iceland’s national sport?

Today is Father’s Day in El Salvador and Guatemala; and World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

It’s unofficially National Apple Strudel Day; National Eat Your Vegetables Day, and Ugliest Dog Day.

It’s the birthday of artist M.C. Escher, who was born in 1898; musician Barry Manilow, who is 73 today; and tennis player Venus Williams, who turns 36.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1971, the top songs in the U.S. were “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late” by Carole King.

The No. 1 movie was “Big Jake,” while the novel “The Passions of the Mind” by Irving Stone topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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