Imagine this: It’s Christmas Eve and after receiving a brand-new book from your family, you cozy up in front of the fire, with a mug of hot cocoa, or an alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland, and spend the rest of the evening reading.
This is exactly how many Icelandic people celebrate Christmas each year. This tradition is known as Jolabokaflod, which translates roughly to “Christmas book flood” in English. Jolabokaflod started during World War II, when paper was one of the few things not rationed in Iceland. Because of this, Icelanders gave books as gifts while other commodities were in short supply, turning them into a country of bookaholics.
“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association, told NPR. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”
I recently learned of this beautiful tradition and it really resonates with me. Living in a culture that promotes excessive consumption during the holiday season, Jolabokaflod focuses attention back on the simple pleasures in life: reading and spending time with the people you love.
In the last few years, I have done most of my Christmas shopping in local, independent bookstores. I enjoy choosing a special book for each of my family members and investing my money in the community. Rather than buying a lot of additional gifts, I also make a donation, in their honour. This year, I am supporting The Gift of Good Food. This fundraiser supports families who are in need of consistent, healthy produce for their children. Families receive a free Good Food Box every two weeks for an entire year. For me, it feels like a meaningful way to reorient the holiday season.
However and whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, I wish you all much love, joy and happiness; and I hope that you have the opportunity to rest, replenish and relax with your friends and loved ones before beginning again fresh and new in 2023.