Jólabókaflóð: An Icelandic Christmas Tradition

Iceland is not a huge country, but it has a millennia long rich literary history, beginning with the Old Norse Sagas. Everybody in Iceland reads, and everyone buys books, and just about half of the people of Iceland have written (and often self-published) books. Every year, there’s a traditions of Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood,” a reference to the national Icelandic practice of giving books to friends and family, who then spend Christmas Eve staying up and reading their new books.

Jólabókaflóð started because of World War II; import tariffs and currency problems, among other difficulties, made gift-giving difficult. But paper wasn’t so dear, and books were available. Book-giving became a cultural institution, and in a nation of readers (Icelanders read more books per capita than most), a Yule-tide phenomena, culminating in a national book catalog, the bókatíðindi, sent to all Iceland households. The tradition has shaped Iceland’s publishing tradition, with most books, and almost all hardcover books released between October and November, in time for gift-giving.

Gifts are usually opened on Christmas Eve, and it’s not Christmas if you don’t receive at least one book. Memes about Jólabókaflóð have reached Facebook, Twitter and mainstream media, popularizing the idea of curling up with a books, some chocolate and a beverage as you read through Christmas Eve.

About Lisa

She plays o' the viol-de-gamboys, speaks three or four languages word for word without book, hath all the good gifts of nature, knows a hawk from a handsaw, and can see a church by daylight. The rest is subject to fancy.
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