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In the heart of a chilly Icelandic winter, a tradition as warm as a crackling fireside unfolds. It's called Jólabókaflóð, the Christmas Book Flood, a festive celebration unique to Iceland, painting the holiday season with the rich hues of literary love.
Written by:
Viktória Komjáti
Content creator
18 Dec 2023

In Iceland, a land where myth intertwines with the rugged beauty of nature, there exists a word that encapsulates a beloved tradition - Jólabókaflóð. This unique term, directly translating to 'Christmas Book Flood', is a heartwarming Icelandic phenomenon that heralds the holiday season with a deluge of literary treasures.

Understanding the Essence of Jólabókaflóð

Jólabókaflóð is an annual celebration deeply ingrained in Icelandic culture. This cherished custom starts in the lead-up to Christmas, as publishers flood the market with a wave of new books. It's a period marked by anticipation and excitement, where the thrill of discovering new stories and authors fills the air.

The onset of Jólabókaflóð is signified by the distribution of 'Bókatíðindi', a special catalogue that lists the year's new publications. This catalogue, eagerly awaited by every Icelandic household, marks the beginning of the festive literary season. It's a period where the simple act of choosing a book becomes a meaningful prelude to the holiday celebrations.

As Christmas Eve approaches, the essence of Jólabókaflóð comes to life. It's a time when Icelanders exchange carefully selected books as gifts. Picture a typical Icelandic home on Christmas Eve: families gathered together, exchanging beautifully wrapped books, the air filled with the rustling of pages and the soft murmur of contentment. The evening is then spent in quiet enjoyment, reading these new books while sipping on hot cocoa or jólabland, a traditional Icelandic holiday drink.

The Roots of Jólabókaflóð

The story of Jólabókaflóð, Iceland's cherished Christmas Book Flood, finds its roots in the challenging times of World War II. During this period, Iceland, like many other countries, faced severe restrictions on imports due to the global conflict and economic turmoil. These constraints significantly limited the range of goods available to the Icelandic people, especially for luxury items and traditional giftware usually exchanged during Christmas.

In this landscape of scarcity, one resource stood out for its relative abundance: paper. Unlike many other commodities, paper was not heavily rationed in Iceland during the war years. This accessibility of paper presented a unique opportunity in a time when most other gift options were limited or unavailable. Icelandic publishers, recognizing this opportunity, began to release the majority of their new titles in the months leading up to Christmas.

The tradition of Jólabókaflóð truly began to take shape with the introduction of 'Bókatíðindi' – the Journal of Books. This annual catalogue, first published in 1944, was a comprehensive guide to the year's new book releases. Sent free of charge to every household in the country, it became a much-anticipated harbinger of the holiday season. The release of Bókatíðindi marked the start of the book flood, with families eagerly perusing its pages to select books to gift their loved ones on Christmas Eve.

Iceland's deeply rooted literary culture also nurtured the swift embrace and growth of the Jólabókaflóð tradition. With a history of storytelling dating back to the ancient sagas, literature has always been a crucial part of Icelandic identity. This cultural backdrop made books a natural choice for gifts, resonating with the Icelandic people's love for storytelling and literature.

As Iceland emerged from the war years, Jólabókaflóð evolved from a practical solution to a symbol of resilience and national pride. It reflected the country's ability to adapt creatively to challenging circumstances and highlighted the importance of literature in Icelandic culture. Over the years, Jólabókaflóð has become an integral part of Iceland's Christmas celebrations, embodying the spirit of community, the joy of giving, and the love of reading.

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