December is my favorite month of the year. I love the decorations, the lights, and mostly the atmosphere. It seems people are friendlier, more helpful. Despite the larger crowds, I enjoy shopping for that perfect gift that will light up someone's eyes.
When my kids were little, I followed my own rule of thumb when it came to Christmas gifts: a pajama, a puzzle, a toy, a stuffy, and a book. They were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve: the pajama, which they wore that night. Then on Christmas Day, they either started the book or the puzzle. They are grown up now, but that same rule of thumb now applies to my granddaughter. It wasn't something I'd read somewhere or that was passed down from generations, but then a few weeks back I saw that post on Facebook.
My curiosity was piqued, so I browsed the Internet to see if I could find out more about this delightful Christmas tradition.
"Jólabókaflóð" or "Yule Book Flood" originated during World War II when foreign imports were restricted, but paper was cheap. Iceland’s population was not large enough to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year.
Icelanders open their presents on Christmas Eve, so most of them end the evening by settling down with one of their gifted books. According to Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardótti, books remain the number one Christmas present in Iceland and it’s considered a total flop Christmas if you do not get a book.
Fun & interesting facts:
- Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country
- One in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime
- In Iceland, the holiday season officially kicks off with the delivery of the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland
- In 2011, Reykjavík (Iceland's capital) was designated a UNESCO City of Literature
While giving books is not unique to Iceland, the tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading is becoming a cultural phenomenon... a relaxing and charming tradition, even more so when it's cold and snowing outside.
So this Christmas Eve, I'm contemplating getting a new book, a box of chocolate, a cup of hot cocoa, and spending the night reading by the fireplace.