Why Iceland celebrates Christmas with books

In Iceland, books are such popular Christmas gifts that you’ll find stacks of them in grocery stores. Here’s why.

Jolabokaflod might be the best way to spend the holidays

On Christmas Eve, in Iceland, people gift each other books and spend the night reading. It’s the tradition of Jólabókaflóðið, of the Christmas Book Flood. The “flood” starts with the release of a book catalog of Bokatidindi distributed for free to every home in Iceland. The Icelandic sagas that were written in the 13th, 14th centuries.

A big part of creating a national identity, that later contributed to the country’s independence

“After a nice family meal, you would gather around the big Christmas tree and everyone would get their presents, and among your presents, you would normally expect to have at least one or two or three books. I would also say that it’s part of the tradition that after the family gathering you hide up with a cozy evening with the new book that you got among your presents. This is a much older tradition, it stems back to some import restrictions during and following the Second World War, when the book became a popular Christmas present. They were printed in Iceland, so they were not subjected to these restrictions, and this is, I understand, how it all started,” Kristján Andri Stefánsson, Icelandic Ambassador tells Brut.

The Icelandic sagas were written between the 13th 14th centuries

According to the Icelandic Publishers Association nearly 7 Icelanders out of 10 buy one or more books as a Christmas present and two thirds of the country’s new titles are released between November and December. In the run up to the festive season, books pop up everywhere, even next to the frozen aisle of supermarkets. Reading has long been a national sport in Iceland. After the UK, it’s the country that publishes the most books per capita in the world. Today, its literary tradition helps keep the Icelandic language alive. And if you’re wondering how to pronounce Jólabókaflóðið just press play.