When living in a small village in Iceland we are often asked about what we do in the winter. Many even wonder if it is possible to live here in winter. And it’s not just the tourists, even people from Reykjavík sometimes wonder how life works outside of the city. Here below I hope to be able to shed some light on the life and culture in rural communities in Iceland.
As in all of Iceland summer is the time where work schedule is irregular due to the workers taking turns going on vacation. But when winter comes everything returns back to a regular routine.
Among the questions we hear quite frequently is “how do you make a living?”. To answer that question we must first understand that every community, big or small has the same basic needs. We all need access to health care, groceries, law enforcement and so forth. But in small communities it may not always be possible to have a full-time job providing some of these basic services. For this reason many people in small communities will be wearing many hats along the way. The cashier at the store may also be driving the ambulance, the farmer may also drive the school bus or the car mechanic may also work as a substitute police some weekends. To give a few examples of the kind of jobs people do in small communities I can mention, teachers, hotel workers, farmers, fishermen, builders, doctors, dentists, engineers, designers, musicians, psychologists, veterinarian and many more.
Lately with Iceland’s increasing popularity among tourists many have turned to tourism service jobs. As such tourism has created many new opportunities in small communities in rural Iceland. The increasing traffic around the country has for example given store owners the possibility to have longer opening hours. This in turn favors both the locals and the visitors.
One of the most important aspects of a community is the school. Every community in Iceland has a school for children age 6 to 16. After that you have to go to school in larger towns if you want to continue with your education. When the school starts in fall around August 20 it has a great effect on the live in a small community. It creates structure and routine to life in the entire town and the surrounding area.
Social life and hobbies
If summer is the time for festivals in Iceland, winter is the time for organised social life. This ranges from a weekly game night playing cards and book clubs to volunteer work, choirs and sports. During the winter time most people living in smaller communities take part in one or more weekly activities. In east Iceland there is also a winter festivity called Dagar Myrkurs or the days of darkness. During these days the locals in several communities make the most of the darkness of winter. This also brings a little life into this time where the days are short. Among other things there are concerts, art shows, candle floating or anything the locals come up with each year.
As mentioned earlier, volunteer work is a staple in the social life for many in rural areas. Most communities have a division of the Lions clubs, the Red Cross and ICE-SAR (Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue) as well as Women clubs. All of these organisations have played an important role in the function of smaller communities.
Both Lions and the Women clubs have gathered funds and provided equipment for healthcare, culture and sport education. With out this kind of effort these investments would have been hard to come by. The Red Cross has the role to open mass relief centres during crisis times as well as its more recognised role of charitable work for impoverished people all over the world. Lastly the ICE-SAR is an important part of the safety network in Iceland. Whether it is to search for a lost individual, assist people in danger during and after stormy weathers, or rescuing an injured person off the beaten track, they will be there.
From this you can see that those who want to have something to do always find themself something to do.
If you plan to visit East Iceland this winter check out our article about what to do in East Iceland in winter.
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