Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood” in English, is the Icelandic tradition of giving and unwrapping new books on Christmas Eve, cozying up with family, and reading into the night.
Imagine this: It’s Christmas Eve and after receiving a brand-new book from your family, you cozy up in your favorite reading nook or in front of the fire with a mug of hot cocoa and spend the rest of the evening reading.
That’s exactly how Icelandic people celebrate Christmas each year. This tradition is known as Jolabokaflod, which translates roughly to “Christmas book flood” in English.
Jolabokaflod started during World War II in 1944 when paper was one of the few things not rationed in Iceland. The Icelandic book trade sent out a book bulletin to each household in the middle of November when the Reykjavik Book Fair happens. People use this catalog to order books to give to their friends and family on Christmas Eve, the main gift-giving day in Iceland. After all the presents are open, everyone grabs a cup of hot chocolate and cozies up to spend the rest of the evening reading their books.
Because of this, Icelanders gave books as gifts while other commodities were in short supply, turning them into a country of bookaholics to this day, In fact, a 2013 study conducted at Bifröst University found that 50 % of Icelanders read more than eight books a year and 93 % read at least one.
“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association, told NPR. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”
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