“Jólabókaflóðið:” The Christmas Book Flood: An Icelandic Tradition

By December 9, 2018Inspired by Literature

Every year in the UK and in the US some new gadget or toy is announced as the most popular gift for that year, but in Iceland they do things slightly differently and it means that the most popular gift is always books!

Jólabókaflóðið is Icelandic for Yule Book Flood and that’s because every year there’s an annual release of new books that occurs just before Chirstmas, it’s a national publishing tradition and in Iceland, Christmas is planned around it.

Every year every household in Iceland receives a compilation of book releases in a magazine called bókatíðindi (book news). It’s distributed for free and the number of new books in it to be released often tops eight hundred.

The custom stems from Iceland’s long literary tradition and strict WWII currency restrictions which limited the amount of imported giftware. The restrictions on imported paper were much more lenient than on other products and so books became massively popular Christmas gifts, starting a tradition that continues today.

The Icelandic people do Christmas a little differently to the rest of the world. The main event takes place on Christmas Eve when the main Yule meal is served and gifts are exchanged. So with full bellies in warm houses people open their gifts and these gifts are books. What else is there to do but stay up all night and read as a family? This is how Christmas is spent in Iceland and it sounds magical!

This tradition means that Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world and one in ten Icelanders have published a book themselves. There’s even an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.

It sounds like a magical tradition and one the rest of the world could aspire to!

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