Here in Iceland we’re currently in the thick of Þorrablót season—the traditional midwinter festival where people get together to eat rotten food and drink lots of Black Death. While it is commonly regarded by outsiders as merely a putrid-food drinkfest, there is a lot more to it than that.
Before Iceland adopted Christianity in 1000 AD, it was a Pagan society that worshipped the Norse gods. A blót was a celebration held in honor of the gods, and Þorrablót was held in the month of Þorri, which began in the 13th week of winter according to the Pagan calendar. Originally it was a sacrificial feast dedicated to the god Þór (Thor to you and me).
Before 1000 AD, a brewing feud between Pagans and the growing number of Christians in the country threatened to erupt. The two sides each refused to acknowledge the laws of the other. Under the threat of imminent chaos, a decision was made to ask the Pagan Law Speaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði—who was known to be a pretty cool guy—to make a decision on behalf of the fledgling nation as to which laws it should uphold.
So old Þorgeir went and lagðist undir feld—literally ‘lay down beneath a skin’—in order to meditate on his decision (hence creating an idiom in the Icelandic language—when one needs to make a major decision they need to leggjast undir feld). He stayed there for a night and a day, and then declared that he felt it was most wise to adopt Christianity, although the pagans could still hold their celebratory feasts as long as they did so discreetly, i.e. in secret. Consequently the Þorrablót feasts went underground and, in addition to being a fun chance for a get-together, they presented an opportunity to finish off all those leftovers that had been preserved in… well, in whatever way was possible back then. And so Þorrablót became inextricably linked to things like cured (read: putrefied) shark, soured ram’s testicles, pickled whale blubber, sheep’s head jelly, soured intestines, and so on…
This carried on for centuries, until around 200 years ago someone decided that they probably wouldn’t be beheaded if they held the party out in the open. So today Þorrablót are held all over the country, replete with toasts to Thor (not really) and lots of the dubious delicacies described above (yes, really). No Pagan cloak required.