Love books? Love other cultures? Love combining the two? Me, too! That’s why I’m such a fan of this Iceland tradition of books on Christmas Eve. And for families, this can be a fun way to fill bookshelves – check out Jolabokaflod for kids tips.
What does Jolabokaflod mean?
Jolabokaflod translates to Yule Book Flood. The word is written like: Jólabókaflóðið and pronounced: YO-la-bok-a-flothe. In a nutshell, the Jolabokaflod is the exchange of books on Christmas Eve. How it’s done can vary. We’ll get to that in a moment. But, first, I think the interesting history of how this started is worth a look.
A Brief History of Jolabokaflod
After World War II, Iceland imported few things freely. Paper was one of them. Publishers took advantage of this and published many books. The popular publishing season occurs the few months leading up to Christmas. So, the combination of new books being published + a gift-giving holiday meant that books became the gift of choice.
What is Jolabokaflod?
Floods sound stressful. Don’t worry. The flood isn’t referring to all of the books you have to buy – no, it just means the flood of books that fill the shops in Iceland. At home, you can celebrate it any way you’d like… well, with books any way you like!
How can I celebrate Jolabokaflod?
Personally, I’d want to celebrate while visiting Iceland with my kids, but since that’s not always going to be realistic. Fortunately, each family picks the way that suits them. The biggest thing is that it is the act of GIVING books. Some ideas:
- Get kids excited in the months leading up to Christmas Eve by showing them what new books have been published (check it out here)
- Buy a book for each member of the family.
- Do a secret Santa type exchange where each family member purchases a book for one other person.
- Purchase a bunch of books together and let each person pick out the one they want.
Tradition seems to dictate that the best part of Jolabokaflod is curling up with the book afterward. Snack on your family’s favorite Christmas treats and a warm drink and read.
One thing I love about the way it’s celebrated in Iceland is that the weeks following Christmas, people talk about their books. Publishers and newspapers write about which books did well that year, just in time for people to buy a few for themselves after the holidays.
For our family, I’ll probably do a small journal. Get a notebook dedicated to Jolabokaflod and write what books were exchanged, and our thoughts on them. Then pack it away with all of our other Chrsitmas decorations at the end of the season.
Tips for purchasing books for others
This tradition requires the gift giver to be intuned to the receiver. What kind of book do you picture the receiver curling up to read? If the family picks from a stack, which books have universal appeal?
Considering that these are gifts and typically purchased during a time when many new books are published – a nice, newly published hardback book would be a considerate choice.
Read more about Jolabokaflod
I read the following articles, which helped me understand more about this holiday: