“Thanks to the Jolabokaflod, books still matter in Iceland; they get read and talked about. Excitement fills the air. Every reading is crowded; every print run is sold.” – Hallgrimur Helgason
Leaving cookies out for Santa, picking out the perfect tree, and Elf on a Shelf are all beloved holiday traditions we’re familiar with here in America. But if we travel a bit across the ocean to the country of Iceland, we find a new celebration that deserves some attention, especially for those who consider themselves book lovers.
The Jolabokaflod, which roughly translates in English to “Christmas Book Flood,” is a simple but charming idea. Traditionally, on the eve of Christmas, families will gift books to one another. After the holiday meal, they will spend the evening cozied up with comforting beverages such as hot chocolate or jólabland (an Icelandic drink made with orange soda and brown ale) while indulging in their new books.
The roots of this tradition can be traced back to World War II. Paper wasn’t rationed and many goods were not being imported. Plus, a tightened income for many families meant that locally published books made the perfect gifts. The publishing cycle began to reflect this, with most books being published during the month of November. Starting in 1944, every household in Iceland received a catalogue called the Bókatíðindi. This publication highlights the new books hitting the market and helps Icelanders pick out a present for their loved ones still today.
Perhaps due to the popularity of Jolabokaflod, the people of Iceland have become known for their love of books. A recent study shows that half the population reads up to eight books a year. In fact, one in ten citizens will even go on to become a published writer. Quite impressive for a country with a population of only 300,000 people!
There is something to be gained from observing the Jolabokaflod. The holiday season tends to be a busy time of year, and we often forget to take time for ourselves to relax and reflect. The past year and half have been particularly stressful as we all seek to navigate the new norm of living through a global pandemic. Intentionally setting the time aside to sit in the presence of people you care about while participating in the calming act of reading and learning something new sounds like a wonderful way to wrap up another hectic year.
Even if you don’t plan on incorporating a version of Jolabokaflod into your festivities, it’s undeniable that books make great gifts. And if you can, it’s always nice to support your local bookstore! Here are a few book suggestions from Backstage employees and friends for you to consider for your last-minute holiday shopping:
- For those looking for a laugh:
- Dinosaur Therapy by James Stewart and illustrated by K Romey
- Heart and Brain: An Awkward Yeti Collection by Nick Seluk
- Stuffed (Vol. 1 &2) by Extended Play
- For something heartwarming:
- Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
- For the Disney fanatic:
- 3D Disneyland: Like You’ve Never Seen It Before by David A. Bossert
- For the Foodie
- Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide (Atlas Obscura) by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras
- For a little mystery
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- For those who enjoy a touch of the macabre
- The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
- For science fantasy lovers
- Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
- For a touch of the ethereal
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- For something thought-provoking
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
- For the music fan
- 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery
Happy holidays to our partner libraries, networks, and archives from the Backstage team, and may next year bring many new opportunities to connect and grow!