A book for Christmas, Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflód
The falling snow, the burning fireplace, the lights of the tree, a cup of hot chocolate and a nice book … don’t you feel like reading too?
What could be nicer than the warmth of one’s home, the Christmas tree lights, the fireplace, a nice cup of steaming hot chocolate and a good book? In Iceland they spend the Christmas holidays, with a custom that has been handed down for years: the Jólabókaflód. Tradition has it that on December 24, in Iceland, books – strictly paper – should be given away, to start reading at midnight and spend Christmas day immersed in reading.
No lunches or dinners, only the scent of printed paper and hundreds of pages to scroll one after the other. The Jólabókaflód, which literally means “flood, flood of books”, dates back to the Second World War, when at the time the severe capital restrictions reduced the amount of gifts to be imported into Iceland. However, the limitations on paper were less burdensome, so the habit of giving away books for Christmas became widespread.
Since then, Icelanders have kept this tradition alive and books have become the perfect gift to give to friends and relatives. A unique custom of its kind, which has something magical and fabulous.
The search for the perfect book to give away begins in November, when every Icelandic receives in the mailbox the Bókatídindi, a catalog with all the new publications of the Association of Icelandic publishers. The bookshops, between November and December, are flooded with books of all kinds, for adults and children.
Jólabókaflód is also a way to continue reading books in paper format. Leaf through the pages, pin down thoughts, underline the most striking phrases and then read them again in a moment of need … there is no more beautiful reading than the one you can touch with your own hands.
Think that Iceland is the country where more books are published, 5 per thousand inhabitants. This passion for reading led UNESCO to designate Reykjavik as a Reading City in 2011.
A beautiful tradition that we could also take back. A book is an object full of value and meaning, something magical, where to live new lives through imaginary words and settings, created by a stranger. Falling snow, a blanket on your lap, Christmas songs … it’s the right time to start reading.