AS WE RING in the New Year the major cities of the world try to outdo each other with the most creative and most grandiose fireworks display. To my mind, Sydney generally wins because of the natural setting of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. But the iconic features of London, Paris and New York are real challengers and in recent years, Dubai has proved quite spectacular.
For those looking for something different, I can recommend the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik where the midnight fireworks display at the Church of Hallgrimur is a community event put on by the people for the people. All proceeds from fireworks sold go to the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, a volunteer group which is involved in more than 1000 rescues each year.
Icelanders traditionally wine and dine in formal style at private parties or restaurants before celebrating with local and regional bonfires and the trek up the hill to the stunning modern design church for the midnight show. Bars and restaurants stay open and the party carries on until dawn. Icelanders know how to drink!
There were an estimated 200,000 people there on our night and you find yourself chatting to tourists from all parts of the world as you happily share your bottle of champagne.
The church is a not to be missed tourist attraction and affords from the top of the 73 metre tower a bird’s eye view of the city and surrounding mountains and sea.
We had attended an afternoon concert at the church the day before and then decided to stay for choral singing which was to follow. There was indeed choral singing, but it was part of the local church service so the four of us sat patiently through a rather long Lutheran sermon delivered in Icelandic. It was an endurance feat which attracted some strange but sympathetic looks from the locals.
But of course the New Year’s Eve fireworks are not the only dancing lights you can expect during a winter trip to Iceland.
The highlight is the Aurora Borealis – the dancing Northern Lights which you can catch from September to April, though I hadn’t realised until we got there that these can be quite elusive.
You need a clear night, you need favourable solar activity, and you need a coach tour to take you far from the glow of the lights of the city.
We were lucky as first time visitors, but I discovered that some of my fellow coach passengers were enjoying their first success in three or four visits. Not quite as spectacular on our night as the tourist brochures but certainly an hour long performance of dancing colours, patterns and shapes.
A bit like a fireworks display.