With the promise of colder temperatures comes a season that harkens to the observance of one of Iceland’s most treasured traditions – the trailing of the sheep, otherwise known as Réttir. All throughout Iceland, in the spring, farmers release their flocks of sheep to graze the summer grasses in Iceland’s valleys and highlands. In the fall, from September to October, they set out on horseback with their crew to retrieve as many sheep as possible – bringing them to the safer, more livable environs of the farmstead. The effort to find and corral these pious creatures often takes several days and can be a daunting task. Once the sheep are gathered, they are placed in large sheepcotes where they are divided and sorted according to each farmer’s distinct markings. People from all over Iceland and travelers from different reaches of the world journey to these large sheep pens to lend a helping hand.
Locals, families, and friends gather at herding places in anticipation of the return of farmers and their sheep. The waiting period often turns into an all out event with singing, dancing, and other forms of revelry. Once all of the sheep are herded, counted, and safe, each respective town hosts a Réttaball to celebrate their accomplishments. Signaling the end of Réttir, these festivities often take on a bacchanalian quality.
Réttir has become a popular tradition that dates back many centuries and is for several Icelanders the highlight of the fall season. Taking place at more than 150 locations across the country, Réttir not only gives you the opportunity to pet hundreds of fluffy sheep, it also allows you to participate in an activity that is a long-standing custom within Icelandic society.
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