What is Jólabókaflóð??

This is perhaps my new favorite Christmas Holiday season tradition. 

I personally love the idea of starting new Christmas traditions and adopting new practices into my life that force me to slow down, eat a little chocolate, read a book, and appreciate life. 



This Icelandic tradition translates roughly to “Yule Book Flood” and originated during WWII when foreign imports were restricted, but paper was cheap. 


“In Iceland, the culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” says Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th, and people spend the night reading and eating chocolate. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”


Visiting a good book and eating chocolate? Sign me up. 


(If you also want to participate in Jólabókaflóð this Christmas holiday, Alexander Books, a traditionally loved book store in Lafayette, is hosting Alexanderfest December 15th to celebrate its grand opening and join in the book and chocolate exchange tradition. Check out our event page ~here~ to see more!!)


I don’t know about you, but I haven’t finished a book in years. The focus, time, and intimacy it requires to sit down and read a book just isn’t easily obtainable, and doesn’t seem like a priority. 


American culture has largely changed to the point that public libraries are in threat of shutting down, and most people’s response to “what was the last book you read?” is “I don’t have time to read”.  It’s just not practical to use your time for “extras” like that.


If we look to Iceland, we notice a huge difference in culture: 93% of Icelanders read at least one book a year compared to 73% of Americans. Their publishing industry cranks out roughly 1,000 titles each year and the country produces more published authors than anywhere else on the planet. 


This literary practice is deeply rooted in the history of Iceland. The Icelandic Sagas a renowned and form the basis of what we know today about Norse mythology, the history of Scandanavian monarchies, and more. These Sagas were written in the 13thcentury, considered Iceland’s “Golden Age”. 


Once the Golden Age ended, Icelanders suffered oppression, humiliation and the hands of their colonial overlords, and horrific natural disasters that caused famine and mass death. 


One thing that helped the Icelanders survive those times of adversity was the memory of the great era when the Sagas were written. When they were still proud and independent. This memory gave them a sense of national identity and pride. 


In the winter evenings, they developed something called a “kvöldvaka”, which was basically a storytelling session and educational time for children. Because of this, even though the nation was so alarmingly poor, almost everyone could read and write.


Jump ahead to WWII, Icelander’s didn’t have the proper currency to buy foreign products, which limited their gift-giving options around Christmas. Iceland’s population wasn’t large enough to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year, hence “Yule Book Flood”. 


This tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and spending the evening reading is becoming a cultural phenomenon. In recent years, the meme has spread on social media, and bookworms around the world are latching on to the idea and practicing Jólabókaflóð in their own homes. 


I will definitely adopt this beautiful tradition of sharing books and chocolate and quality time into my Christmas holiday practices. 


Time to go pick out a book!