I happened across this long, unfamiliar word a few days ago…Jolabokaflod. Because it appeared to be connected to Christmas, I looked it up. What I discovered is a charming Christmas Eve tradition, that involves gifting a book, to incorporate into my holidays this year.
What is Jolabokaflod?
This Icelandic custom, which translates to Christmas Book Flood, was born from necessity. During World War II foreign imports were restricted in Iceland, limiting the ability to exchange Christmas gifts. However, paper was cheap. Iceland didn’t have a large enough population to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year, just in time for Christmas.
Iceland, which publishes more books per capita than anywhere else in the world, ranks as the third most literate country, globally. They sell most of their books between September and November, in preparation for this holiday.
While giving books as gifts is not unique to Iceland, the tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading them is becoming a cultural phenomenon. Social media has helped to raise awareness about this cozy hygge-like celebration.
The concept of Jolabokaflod is simple. A book for each family member is wrapped and then they are exchanged on Christmas Eve. For the remainder of the evening, people read their books, traditionally while tucked into bed, and enjoying chocolate.
I love this idea!
When my children were young, Christmas Eve was not cozy or relaxing. I busied myself prepping the next day’s big meal and then stayed up all night wrapping gifts, after the kids were asleep. There are sweet memories of thinking about each person in my family as I wrapped his or her gifts. And some funny memories of all night movie marathons, popping in VHS tapes as I struggled to stay awake while wrapping presents.
But cozied up and calm? No. I typically felt stressed, frantic, and behind schedule. I’m excited to try out a new tradition, and to spend time curled up in bed, reading a new book, nibbling on a piece of healthy dark chocolate.
Ideas for Christmas Book Flood
Here are a few ideas for bringing this new tradition into the holiday season:
• This isn’t necessarily a time for expensive books. If your gift list is long, set a limit of $10 or less per book, and pick up paperbacks.
• Visit used book stores, shop online or take advantage of Black Friday sales at Barnes & Noble, Books A Million or indie book shops.
• Be mindful of those who don’t enjoy reading. I have at least one grandchild who isn’t a book fan. Get creative. Look for books around a favorite hobby or topic or a new interest. Shop for a graphic novel or comic book instead of a chapter book, for kids and teens.
• For family gatherings on Christmas Eve, have everyone bring one wrapped book, with a few descriptive words written on the gift tag. For example, “shifting attitudes for greater happiness”, “classic children’s story” or “historical novel set in 16th century France”. Place the packages on a table and allow each person to take turns selecting a book or trading a book with someone else.
• Don’t forget to pick out a book for yourself, and wrap it!
• Include a few pieces of chocolate with each book, using dark chocolate for the health conscious. Alternatively, a packet of hot chocolate mix could be added as well.
Most importantly, withdraw from busyness and to-do lists, with a new book. Burrow beneath a snuggly comforter or a fuzzy blanket and simply read. What a beautiful way to quiet the heart and mind, and prepare for a special, less stressful, Christmas Day.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
I can’t wait!