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Iceland Christmas Eve Tradition: Jolabokaflod

|December 16, 2021

Jolabokaflod is one of the most unique and charming Iceland Christmas traditions. The people of Iceland celebrate it on Christmas Eve. Jolabokaflod translates into "Christmas Book Flood." The tradition is to give or receive new books on Christmas Eve. It's not just about the giving though—it's also about the reading!


Reykjavik panoramic view in winter

History of Jolabokaflod

The true origin of the Iceland book flood is unknown. However, it's believed that this tradition began in the 1930s with a book club called The Reykjavik Library Foundation. They wanted to encourage Icelanders to read more during their long dark winters, and so they established Jolabokaflod as an annual event where people could give and receive new books on Christmas Eve.

Another theory is that Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood, began as a way to promote literacy in Iceland. A study from the 1800s found that only 50% of the population could read. So, giving and receiving new books on Christmas Eve may have been a way to encourage people to learn how to read.

couple gifting books on Christmas evening

Whatever its origins, Jolabokaflod is now a beloved Christmas book tradition that brings families and friends together to celebrate the joys of reading.

Iceland's Love of Books

In addition to this, Iceland has a long history of being very well-read. This started when their first library was established in 1786. At this time, there were no schools, so the general population had very few opportunities for education. They became self-taught through reading books, and this love of learning has continued since that time.

Reading books is still important in Iceland. Today, there are numerous lending libraries, and it's estimated that 97% of all Icelandic households have at least one book! Jolabokaflod is an exciting time for children because they get to see what presents their parents purchase them. However, the best part is when everyone sits down together with a new book on Christmas Eve.

Why are Icelandic Parents Happy their Children are Reading?

family reading book together on Christmas

It is a common belief, in the United States and other countries, that when children become readers, they are doing something good for themselves. That is to say, they are “reading themselves into a better life”. In Iceland, this has been taken one step further by making it a national policy to encourage reading from an early age as part of children’s education. This policy has been so successful that Iceland is the first country in the world to be recognized for having achieved "full literacy."

It's no surprise, then, that Icelandic parents are happy when their kids read. They see it as a positive influence on their child and an important part of life! What do you think about the Iceland Book Holiday of Jolabokaflod? Would you like to try it in your own home?

Today's Jolabokaflod

woman wrapping a book as Christmas present

Nowadays, Jolabokaflod is a beloved tradition in Iceland. Families gather together to exchange new books and spend the evening reading them. It's a special way to celebrate the holiday season and connect with loved ones. Many parents give their children books as gifts, and there are often book sales leading up to Christmas Eve in Iceland.

Common books that are given as gifts during Jolabokaflod include novels, cookbooks, children's books, and textbooks. However, any book can be a part of the tradition! All of the books are wrapped in traditional Icelandic paper, and it is considered good luck to get a book with an insect inside.

Final Thoughts

Jolabokaflod is one of the most beloved Iceland traditions during Christmas. This is a unique and charming way to celebrate Christmas. If you're looking for a special way to spend the holiday season, even if you're not based in Iceland, we recommend giving the Jolabokaflod tradition a try.

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