The Icelandic Christmas: Jolabokaflod

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

Every time around this time of year I hear about how there is a holiday that is dedicated (mostly) to books or at least they have a strong role in the day. I am talking about Jolabokaflod (yo-la-bok-a-flot) in Iceland! I remember doing a geography report in elementary school about this country and how it was named in opposition of Greenland which is actually colder than Iceland! The language looked super interesting as well as all the natural beauty across the land. However, if I had known about this Christmas tradition, I would’ve dug deeper!

Jolabokaflod, which roughly translates as ‘the Christmas book flood’, started back in World War II. Imports were restricted heavily and loads of materials were rationed to serve as holiday gifts, except paper… The latter stayed relatively inexpensive, so the stores that were full of paper products (ie. BOOKS), were what every Icelandic family were heading towards to get their hands on holiday gifts. Books became the primary gift at Christmas and its stayed that way ever since!

We are in the middle of the official Iceland holiday season! Normally, it kicks off in early November where the Bokatidindi—a catalog of every new book published in Iceland – is delivered for free to every Icelandic home. It usually coincides with the Reykjavik Book Fair. People then order books to give friends and family for Christmas. On Christmas Eve night, families either have hand-selected books for each member of the family wrapped under the tree OR they take part in a book-swap, similar to a White Elephant.

That sounds like the PERFECT Christmas to me! Let’s see if my family will be down for that this year 🙂

Want to take part in Jolabokaflod this year?

  1. Look through Book Catalogs (Amazon, Read it Forward, Publishing Houses, etc.)
  2. Lay out the wrapped books beneath the Christmas Tree
  3. Swap/Pick Books on Christmas Eve
  4. Make Hot Chocolate and other sweet treats
  5. Curl up with your new book(s) and read until St. Nick arrives 🙂

What are some other bookish holiday traditions?

3 thoughts on “The Icelandic Christmas: Jolabokaflod

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