Last Updated on July 31, 2020
Jolabokaflod is Iceland’s national holiday tradition. Loosely translated as “Christmas Book Flood,” Jolabokaflod is a practice where everyone gives books on Christmas Eve, then spends the rest of the evening curled up somewhere cozily reading those books.
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A Christmas Tradition
It all started back in the dark days of World War II. Imports were heavily restricted, so supplies were severely limited for pretty much everything one might want as a holiday gift. Everything, that is, except paper.
Paper was one of a handful of materials that was not rationed. That meant that during the Christmas season, stores were full of the one type of product they could get their hands on: books.
And thus began Jolabokaflod, which helped to kindle Iceland’s ongoing love affair with books. According to a 2013 study conducted by Bifrost University, 50% of Icelanders read at least 8 books per year. Compare that to the USA, where the same percentage of people reads only at least 5 books per year.
So Icelanders love them some reading. And they have a holiday tradition to prove it.
Jolabokaflod: Iceland’s “Yule Book Flood”
They call it Jólabókaflóð, which roughly translated means “Christmas Book Flood.” From jalabokaflod.org, which is obviously the official website of this 70+ year old tradition:
Every year since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.
During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.
They send their “Book Bulletin” to every house.
For literally everyone, Christmas Eve is gift time, and gift time means books. After unwrapping all those books, everyone snuggles up to read at least one and chug on a mug of sompn’ sompn’.
What a great tradition!
The Bookworm’s New Favorite Christmas Tradition
If you’re a bookworm, you’re pretty much chomping at the bit to start the Jolabokaflod tradition for yourself. Here’s how, in three easy steps:
- Give books on Christmas Eve.
- Serve up some hot cocoa and/or brown ale.
- Send everybody off to bed for readin’ time.
Oh, and we ‘Mericans already have our own book bulletin delivered to every house. It’s called Amazon. Boom. Check it:
Here’s some more info about the Jolabokaflod tradition, as well as general reading in Iceland, where it’s pretty much their national sport.