Iceland’s Jolabokaflod is a book lover’s Christmas miracle

Holiday tradition sees people exchange books with loved ones on Christmas Eve
jolabokaflod Iceland books More books = more cheer! (Ginasanders | Dreamstime)


Do you love reading? A lot of us do, but few of us are as famous for it as the people of Iceland.

In addition to its otherworldly volcanic terrain and hot springs, this tiny island nation is famous for its love of books.

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A used bookstore in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Getty Embed)

Printed pages are a big deal to Icelanders. A recent study ranked them the 3rd most literate nation in the world (behind only Finland and Norway, while the US was 7th and Canada was 11th). Plus, the capital city of Reykjavik was designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO in 2011. (This is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which names important cultural and historical sites around the globe.)

What can we learn from Iceland's success with books? Well, yes, we could just read more books. But we might consider giving those that don't know what to read a little help...or a giant flood.

Jolabokaflod!

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About one in ten Icelanders will publish at least one book in their lifetime. (Getty Embed)

Jolabokaflod (say: YOH-lah-boh-kah-flohl) means "Yule book flood", or "Christmas book flood". In a way, this Icelandic tradition is pretty much just what it sounds like. (It is also OWLconnected's new favourite holiday word!)

"Yule" is an ancient Germanic word for the Christmas season. Traditionally due to restrictions on imported paper (the country is a remote island, remember), Iceland only published new books once a year, just before Christmas. To showcase this event, a free copy of a catalogue of all of the new books is given to every person in the country. Whoa!

With so many new books to choose from, an excellent tradition began. Every Christmas Eve, Icelanders exchange new books with their loved ones as gifts.

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Then, they spend the night reading books that they have received. And that is how you become a UNESCO City of Literature!

So, who's ready to switch up the holidays this year? Say it with me, folks...

JOLABOKAFLOD!!


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  1. I discovered this tradition last year. My family loves to read, so we adopted this tradition. I also started it with my class. I buy them each a book I think they will like, wrap it up, and stick a card on it about Jolabokaflod, reminding them to open the gift on Christmas Eve.

  2. My heart warmed when I read this. Every year I give books to my 22 nieces and nephews for Christmas. I can’t imagine what that would feel like to receive 22 books in return! I’m a teacher and teaching reading is my passion as well as reading books for my own pleasure. I want kids to not just be able to read, but also to love reading. I want them to choose reading as one of their favourite pastimes. I presently live in a northern community with many First Nations children. Although most speak English, they do so using their own dialect so learning to read is a big challenge coupled with the fact that there are very few books in their homes.
    I love Iceland’s attitude toward books. It’s inspirational!

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