news from januarys past

I’ve been spending some time diving into history and practicing my reading by exploring old articles through the fantastic searchable periodical database I thought it would be interesting to see what has made the front page of the first edition in Januarys past. The general themes? Pretty photos of fireworks, stories about the occasional fireworks mishap or other New Year’s incident, and of course the first Icelandic baby born each year.

They also seem to have a penchant for tallying up how many Icelanders passed away in accidents in any given year.

timinn 3 january 1990

In 1989, 49 individuals, including three foreign citizens, passed away in accidents in Iceland. Seven died from drowning or accidents at sea, thirty in traffic accidents, one in a plane crash, and eleven from other fatal accidents that don’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories.

timinn 3 january 1991 - 1

The next year, 1990, 57 Icelanders died in accidents, including seven who passed away abroad.

Is this sort of tally a normal thing for tiny countries? Or is this a uniquely Icelandic tradition? Someone please shed light on this.

On a less depressing note, I found this tiny gem from the front page of Tíminn, 3 January 1986, in a section titled “í stuttu máli” (“news in short”):


It reads: “Britons were greatly surprised to discover yesterday that they are a very happy nation. According to a public poll that was shared yesterday, nine out of ten Britons are content with their position, 98% of homes have a television, 78% have a telephone, 68% have central heating, and there’s a cat or dog in every other home.”

I don’t know why this amuses me so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was actually printed on the front page of an Icelandic newspaper. Perhaps it’s the claim, completely unsupported, that Britons were terribly surprised by these findings. Or maybe I just have a strange sense of humor.

It seems January 1978 was an exciting time for ABBA fans, as Vísir announced that it would run a sort of comic strip about the band’s history and career. It was created by two Swedish artists and apparently Iceland was the last of the Nordic countries to translate and publish it. It was pointed out that readers could clip each edition and glue them onto size A4 paper, therefore creating a tremendous keepsake and a way to relive the glory of ABBA over and over. Who wouldn’t want that?

ABBA myndasaga

On a more serious note, I thought it would be interesting to read some of the old presidential new year’s addresses, as President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson just delivered his new year’s address, remarkable because he announced that he will not seek reelection in June. After twenty years as president, he will finally make room for someone else to take over at Bessastaðir.

Those who understand Icelandic can read his full address here. The economy (and specifically the nation’s remarkable recovery from the 2008 crash) is a major theme, as is Iceland’s relationship to Europe and within the Nordic nations. The country’s abundant natural resources, particularly rich fishing grounds and other marine resources, are emphasized, as well as the beauty of nature in general and Iceland’s increasing popularity among tourists. In fact, there’s more than a little smack of “Ísland best í heimi!”

“Fegurð landsins, samspil elds og ísa, litadýrð náttúrunnar, tign og víðerni öræfanna laða svo sífellt fleiri hingað; ferðaþjónustan komin í fremstu röð tækjulinda. Ísland er í vitund milljóna víða um heim áfangastaður sveipaður dulúð og ljóma, landið þar sem sérhver gengur frjáls um götur og stíga, lýðræðislegt samfélag sem byggir á öryggi og jöfnum rétti, andrúmsloftið laust við þá mengun sem hrjáir erlendar borgir.”

The beauty of our land, the interplay of fire and ice, the rich colors of nature, the glory and openness of the highlands attract more and more here; tourism is now a leading source of income. Iceland is known to many around the world as a mystical and glamorous destination, the land where each and every man walks free, a democratic society built on safety and equal rights, the atmosphere free of the pollution that plagues foreign cities.


I’ve been reading some old addresses from former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and the similarity of their content is striking.

In her 1989 address, she touches on economic concerns, remarks on the importance of a shared national identity and cultural heritage, praises Iceland’s abundant natural resources and warns agains misusing them. There’s even an almost identical statement about Iceland’s pollution-free air: “Þetta land er laust við mengun. Við erum ein fárra þjóða sem andar að sér hreinu lofti” (“This land is free of pollution. We are one of few nations that breathes clean air”). She also warns about the difficulty of seeing the big picture when we demand constant news, something that seems remarkably applicable to the present day:

En má það ekki vera augljóst að erfitt er á stundum að öðlast heildarsýn yfir málefni lands og lýðs þegar setið er hverja stund um þá stjórnmálamenn sem þjóðin hefur kjörið og þeir fulltrúar eru krafðir sagna um hugsanir sínar frá andartaki til andartaks. Er svo komið að mörgum ofbýður atgangurinn í harðri samkeppni um tíðindi sem helst þurfa að vera æsifréttir. Gæti ekki svo farið að við hættum að taka mark á þó hrópað væri, “Úlfur, úlfur.”


As one would expect from Madame Vigdís, she also takes the opportunity to address the Icelandic language, describing it as the nation’s greatest collective possession and most valuable treasure.

And she seemed to make a habit of quoting poetry in her New Year’s addresses, if I can extrapolate from two. Can you imagine anything more Icelandic?


Jæja, that concludes today’s trip into history, but I think there will be more in the future. This sort of nerdery is right up my alley.





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