Jolabokaflod: The Icelandic Christmas Eve Book Flood Tradition

Happy Christmas Eve! Or should I say, Happy jólabókaflóð Day!

jólabókaflóð Christmas book flood

In many ways I prefer today to tomorrow, there’s a sort of anti-climatic feeling that starts to creep in on Christmas Day, the dawning reality that the weeks of anticipation and general joyful cheer are now over. So that means I always hold a special place in my heart for the last day before Christmas – TODAY!

I didn’t think I’d be able to love Christmas Eve any more, but then this truly superb Icelandic tradition was brought to my attention. Have you ever heard of jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot)? It roughly translates as the Christmas book flood (yes, amazing – you see where this is going) and is the best festive tradition I have ever heard of.

What is Jolabokaflod?

Well, on Christmas Eve, Icelanders give each other gifts of books so that they can spend the day / evening sitting and reading as a family or with their friends. YES. It’s the dream, right?

I always find it fascinating learning facts about other cultures and I had no idea how much focus Iceland puts on literature and reading. Apparently Jolabokaflod originates from the time of World War II when paper was one of the few things not rationed, so people gave books as Christmas presents. Also, Icelandic publishers release a majority of their books at the end of the year, causing a rush to buy and read them. Since 1944 the publishing houses have been sending catalogues of all the upcoming book releases to EVERY HOUSE in Iceland (I know, can you imagine if we got that here??) generating publicity and causing excitement. Authors appear on prime time TV and book reading are treated like rock gigs. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I now want to move to Iceland too.

It’s not that this is a tradition a handful of people partake in, it’s embedded in the Icelandic culture has a wider positive impact. I found this amazing stat that says one in ten people in Iceland will publish a book. The article also has this pretty marvellous line, ‘There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach”. 

What a wonderful legacy for Iceland to have. What do you think? Are you going to add a little Jolabokaflod into your Christmas routine? I most certainly am, so with that, I’m off to read. But not before wishing you all a very Merry & Bookish Christmas! x

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