Jólabókaflóð: The Icelandic Christmas Book Flood

I feel like 22 years has just been stolen from me and my family. Why? Because I recently learned about an Icelandic Christmas tradition called Jólabókaflóð.

I’ll let the blogger at icelandwillmakeyouhappy.wordpress.com give you the details:

“In Iceland, the Christmas season … starts with the publication of a catalogue, the bókatíðindi, a catalogue that lists all of the books available for purchase in Iceland during the Christmas season. As it is customary for every Icelandic person to receive at least one book for Christmas, approximately 80-90% of the books published each year in Iceland come out during the Christmas season since this is the time of year with the greatest book sales. So many books are sold during this time of year that this period is referred to as the jólabókaflóð, or ‘Christmas book flood.’ In each family’s home, the bókatíðindi becomes dog-eared and worn by the time Christmas comes around. … Oh, and also the commercials. The TV commercials at this time of year are full of advertisements for books – not TVs, laptops, or diamond stud earrings.”

Did you catch that? Every Icelandic person receives at least one book for Christmas. That is amazing and wonderful. Jólabókaflóð, where have you been all my life? All my family’s lives? [Obviously, in Iceland. Duh.] So many years of traditional, purposeful, all-inclusive book-giving missed out on. Sigh.

But wait. There’s more!

“It is common to discuss potential book purchases with friends, family, and work colleagues. While soaking in the hot pots, the common conversational topic at this time of year is a discussion about the books that one plans to purchase. … There are discussions about the design of the book covers and the recent interviews on TV with the big authors of the season. Christmas is very much about books in Iceland. 
“All Icelanders sit down to a formal meal on Christmas Eve and listen to the mass on the radio at 6 pm, even if their families aren’t religious. That’s just what you do to start the holiday celebrations. Once the meal is over and cleaned up, the gift distribution (or book distribution) begins. When everyone has received their book, it is common to climb into the freshly cleaned sheets of your bed, in your new pajamas, and read late into the night. Isn’t that the coziest thing you have ever heard of?”

A study conducted by Bifrost University found that over 50% of Icelanders read more than eight books in a year. As a brand consultant with many years of work in and around the publishing industry, I can tell you that the average American doesn’t read books at all. For the small percentage who do read them, the average is five books per year.

I can’t do much to impact the culture at large, but I can do this: I can adapt the beautiful tradition of Jólabókaflóð for me and my family. I may have missed out for 22 years, but I don’t have to miss out anymore. This year, I plan to spend the final hours of Christmas Eve and the first hours of Christmas Day—together with my entire family—snuggled up in warm PJs with a hot cuppa (tea for me) and a good book. How about you?
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About Eric Wilbanks

Brand strategist. Wordsmith. Change architect. Training specialist. DiSC Certified. Family guy (hot wife and 4 cool kids). Love my Bible, guitars, baseball, and MMA.


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