As anyone who knows me may have realised, I have a slightly warped definition of the word “holiday” when compared to the general population. This is precisely how I found myself awake hours before dawn on Boxing Day during a recent family trip, about to embark on a 14.5km run around Reykjavik.
In the spirit of inclusion, I had invited the entire family to join me, but only one showed even the slightest enthusiasm. As the rest slept off the overindulgences of the previous few days, my younger, fitter, longer-legged cousin Matt and I crept out of our Airbnb and were soon zipping across the frozen Icelandic tundra in our rental car.
Destination: Seltjarnarneskirkja, a church sitting atop a hill on the outskirts of the capital.
Since the early 2000s, Trimmklúbbur Seltjarnarness – Iceland’s oldest running club – has established a Boxing Day tradition in the form of their Kirkjuhlaup (Church Run). While the city sleeps, those still capable and willing to attempt moderate exercise don their high-vis cold weather running gear in preparation to propel themselves around a free, social 14.5km run-tour of the small city. The mission is to run past 14 churches, chapels and places of worship, before returning to Seltjarnarneskirkja for hot chocolate and cookies.
Minister Sr.Bjarni Þór Bjarnason kicked off proceedings with a short festive greeting and hymn. With the striking of the last chord, the congregation of carol singers morphed into a stampede of runners and thundered off through the icy, twilit streets toward the city centre.
Stops included the imposing Halgrímskirkja and nineteenth century Reykjavik cathedral, but some were more niche: The Chapel of Fridrik (who founded Valur FC, a local soccer team) as well as the Theology Department of the University of Iceland. To stretch the concept further still, we visited a plot of land which will one day see the construction of a temple dedicated to the Nordic Gods Odinn, Thor and their clan.
In early days, the Kirkjuhlaup was a small affair exclusive to club members, but since 2010 it has been open to the public and growing each year. At the most recent run there were nearly 500 participants; amongst them, the President of Iceland himself!
If you ever happen to find yourself in Reykjavik over Christmas, the Church Run is worth bearing in mind. Even if your definition of a “holiday” isn’t quite the same as mine, I can assure you it’s worth it for the hot chocolate alone – I don’t know what they put in it, but Matt and I both agreed that it’s the best we’ve ever tasted!