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Reading the Night Away With the Jólabókaflóð

by Amanda on December 15th, 2017

What the heck is Jólabókaflóð? Literally, it means “Christmas Book Flood,” and it’s pronounced “Yo-la-bok-a-flot.” Maybe you’ve heard of it, since all things Nordic are very trendy right now (hygge, Nordic noir, Scandinavian minimalism, et cetera). It’s the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve, then spending the night reading those books. In Iceland, the holiday season kicks off in November with the delivery of the Bókatíðindi—the annual Book Bulletin, distributed by the Icelandic Publishers Association for free to each Icelandic home.

This tradition began during World War II after Iceland gained its independence from Denmark. Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war, so books became the gift of choice, as other types of gifts were scarce. Iceland loves its books: 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year (compared to 73% of Americans), and it is the third most literate country in the world (Finland and Norway are the first and second). In Iceland, one in ten people will publish a book in their lifetime, and in 2011 Reykjavík was designated a UNESCO City of Literature, three years after Iowa City received the same distinction.

Jólabókaflóð is easy to adapt to your family’s needs. While the original tradition is tied to Christmas, yours doesn’t need to be! Simply gather your family together, and enjoy each other’s company while exchanging your favorite books. Check out used bookstores, thrift stores, and library sales to get the best deals on your Book Flood gifts, or use library books for a totally free exchange (just be careful about overdue books). This article has some really fun ideas for creating your own Book Flood tradition.

This sweet tradition is very close to my heart. I grew up in a family of readers—which is probably not surprising, now that I’m working in a library and getting my Master’s in Library Science. For a lot of other families, Christmas day is a loud, boisterous occasion. For my family, it was all about the books. On Christmas Eve, we would gather around the tree and read classic picture books together; the next day was usually spent in pajamas, scattered around the house, reading all the new books we’d received as gifts. To me, there’s almost nothing better than being with people you love, reading.

What books will you give to your loved ones this holiday season?