The Christmas season is upon us and with that many families are preparing for their annual holiday traditions. Baking cookies, going to see Christmas light displays, or even going ice skating and drinking hot cocoa afterward. But did you know there is a Christmas Eve tradition in Iceland known as Jolabokaflod or the Christmas Book Flood? Yup! Once a year a huge flood of books comes to Iceland and well…let’s dive into that a little more.
The Background Story
So what is this Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood thing anyway? How’s that for a flood name? Of course, the name does beg the question: How much would a literal flood of books hurt, and do you think it would level a city? But I’ll digress since it’s a bit off-topic.
As mentioned earlier it's an Icelandic tradition that got its start during the Second World War. It was during this time that American and British forces were stationed in Iceland leading to an economic uptick for many Icelanders, more than in previous years. Thanks to this, folks had more disposable income and since paper wasn’t an item that was rationed, (weird for an island with few trees,) they started buying books and exchanging them on Christmas Eve. Once exchanged, they would sit and read them either individually or sometimes together.
Seems strange that books would be the thing you would spend extra cash on right? Well not for Icelanders. Iceland gets cold, like really cold, and there isn’t a lot to do when it's both cold and dark, especially in the winter months. Icelanders have long told stories, a tradition passed down by their ancestors. Iceland was settled in 870 AD by Norsemen from Denmark and with them they brought stories. Stories of their past, their culture, and the world around them. In the cold and dark, they would tell these tales to each other. This continued throughout Iceland's history leading into the Second World War. For people who recently acquired extra spending cash and who had a long history that highly valued stories, it made sense that books were naturally the thing to buy as Christmas gifts. And just like that, a new tradition was born and thanks to that tradition a flood of books come to the market in Iceland right around Christmas time.
This year I hope you are inspired to make this a tradition in your homes. After all, reading is so important! Stories challenge us and make us ask some really big questions. They confront us with issues in society and ask questions that we don’t always want to ask out loud. They often present new ideas and carry histories, cultures, and values. Stories cause us to reflect on ourselves and the world around us. By sharing a story we are sharing more than just the words on the page. We are sharing the very things that make us who we are. So celebrate Jolabokaflod and share a story or two!