The Icelandic Pancake Tradition That Celebrates The Returning Sun

On Iceland's northernmost tip — just over 40 miles from the Arctic Circle — a small fishing town perched on a fjord spends over eight weeks of winter in darkness. It's not the dramatic dark of Svalbard or Alaska, but a sort of dim polar blue caused by the sun not cresting over the steep mountains of the Troll Peninsula. As explained by Atlas Obscura, from November until late January, Siglufjörður's 1,200 residents know that the sun is close — sometimes they can even see the mountain peaks tipped with tantalizing gold rays — yet it can't quite reach them.

This is why, on January 25, Siglufjörður (Sigló) celebrates the return of the sun with Sólardagur ("The Day of the Sun"). That said, the date of this century-old tradition isn't strict — if a blizzard is whipping around the town, then the festivities are postponed (via 66 North). What people are waiting for is those first winter rays to hit the street known as Sólgata ("Sun Street"), although some families hold off until the sun reaches their house. However, The Day of the Sun isn't just a Sigló thing — it's celebrated in other northern villages and even in cities like Reykjavík that don't have a dark period. But it has special significance for places like Sigló because the return of light is a joyful relief. For this reason, people mark the occasion with hot drinks and delicious pancakes.

The tasty way that Sigló celebrates the end of winter darkness

On Sólardagur, northern communities celebrate by meeting with their families for Sólarkaffi ("sun coffee"). Coffee is brewed and enjoyed alongside pönnukökur — crepe-like Icelandic pancakes (via Icelandair). Yet on this day of the year, the crepes are dubbed "solar pancakes" as they resemble the golden disc of the sun. Generally, pönnukökur are made with flour, baking soda, eggs, milk, salt, butter or margarine, and either cardamom, vanilla, or lemon. That said, sometimes a little coffee is added for flavor and an extra golden look (via Your Friend In Reykjavik). And traditionally, you cook these treats on a thick-bottomed pancake pan — in fact, Icelanders take these pans very seriously, passing them down through the generations. And as Honest Cooking explains, this adds years of accumulated flavor or "seasoning." 

And once the crepes are ready, it's time to guzzle them down, sprinkled with sugar or with whipped cream and either blueberry or rhubarb jam (rabarbarasulta). Iceland Food Centre points out that the rhubarb jam is likely to be homemade, as this sturdy vegetable grows so easily in Iceland that most people have their own garden patch. Yet, on January 25, the cheery pink condiment has a special significance. Alongside the solar pancakes, it is the taste of the end of winter, the beginning of spring, and the return of the life-giving, energizing sun.