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Jólabókaflóð and Cozy Reading

By Chetla Jackson on Dec 8, 2023 12:01 AM

It’s that time of year again when we start to think about the holidays and spending time with family, friends, and other loved ones. The holiday season is also a time of merriment and celebration, but for many, it is a time of finding that perfect gift. Each year we spend at least 15 hours shopping for holiday gifts, spending over 180 billion dollars. Why not spend 15 hours in the pages of a cozy book for free?

This brings us to the coast of Iceland, in the city of Reykjavík, where each year they prepare for the holidays by shopping for books. Reykjavík was previously designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) City of Literature. Why? In 2012 Iceland published “more books per capita than any other country in the world, with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders.”

From September through November, Iceland’s book sales are higher than that of any other country during the holidays. This unusual surge in book sales is all due to a national tradition known as Jólabókaflóð, or the “Christmas Book Flood.” Traditionally, books are given as gifts, and on the eve of the holiday, they spend their time opening and reading the books they’ve received with a cup of hot chocolate or an alcohol-free holiday ale called jólabland.

A Brief History

The tradition dates back to World War II, a time when most “luxury” gift items weren’t readily available, or were too expensive due to the war. Most of this merchandise was being rationed. One thing that wasn’t rationed was paper, which made book printing easily accessible and affordable. Thus, families began giving the gift of books each year, and the tradition continued, even though the war had ended.

In 1944, Iceland began publishing the Bókáskrá Boksalafélag Íslands, roughly translated “Booksellers Association Book Catalog.” In 1986 the name was changed to Íslensk bókatíðindi, or “Icelandic Book Magazine,” and it wasn’t until 1995 that they settled on the name Bókatíðindi, or “Book Bulletin.” Picture being in grade school and your teacher hands you a catalog for the big upcoming book fair. Except this version is bigger and better, with more than 70 pages filled with books. A similar publication has been around since 1890. 

They deliver these catalogs to every home in the country beginning in the middle of November. From there, people purchase the books that will soon be gifted to their family, friends, and other loved ones.

How Can You Learn More?

If you are interested in learning more, or maybe starting a similar tradition in your own home, Beth recommends picking up one of these “Nordic and/or cozy inspired reads”:

Reykjavík by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Viking Knits by Lasse L. Matberg

My Hygge Home: How to Make Home Your Happy Place by Meik Wiking





Cozy by Isabel Gillies

Seasonal Scandi Crafts by Christiane Bellstedt Myers

Thirty Days of Darkness by Jenny Lund Madsen






Be sure to visit your local library branch to register for a card and take home the gift of reading this holiday season.

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