It’s only been in the last five or so years that I learned about Iceland’s Jolabokaflod tradition, but it’s one I absolutely adore! In short, the tradition is to give a book on Christmas Eve and then stay up reading it. 😉 But what’s the history of this TOTALLY AWESOME tradition?
It dates back to WWII, when paper was one of the few things not rationed in Iceland, which meant that books were some of the only things widely available. Which in turn meant they became very popular gifts. The word itself can be translated as “Christmas Book Flood,” when books are everywhere (ah, the bliss)!
This book-giving has become such a staple of Icelandic tradition that their entire publishing industry revolves around it. There’s a giant book fair in November, and a catalogue for it goes out to every single family in November, they can peruse the pages and choose which books will be perfect for their loved ones that year.
In Iceland, Christmas Eve is the traditional day to give gifts (my family does this too!), so it’s now just expected that you’ll receive a book. And once you have it, well, what better to do than grab a cup of hot chocolate, curl up in a comfy chair, and read through the night? I love that this also means you get to welcome in the arrival of Christmas Day itself.
This tradition is actually credited with turning the entire country into a land of book-lovers. On average, Icelandic people read twice as many books a year as most Americans do, and more of them read as a pastime in general. In America, 25% of people reported not reading a book in the last year (wha??????), while in Iceland, that number is only 7%.
I don’t know about you, but our family has integrated this tradition into our own! (Well, except for my son, who doesn’t enjoy reading like the rest of us. He prefers a game to ring in Christmas Day.)