Hey Iceland, mind if we borrow your Christmas tradition of Jólabókaflóð?
It's holiday heaven for introverts, basically.
For families that celebrate Christmas, December can be a whirlwind of preparation, excitement, busyness and, frankly, stress. It's all in the name of good things—festivity, family gatherings, generosity—but phew, it can be a lot.
Perhaps that's one reason why the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð (approximately pronounced Yo-lah-boke-ah-flode) has grabbed people's attention. What if, instead of hustling and bustling, families spent the night before Christmas quietly reading?
Literally translating as "Christmas book flood," Jólabókaflóð is the tradition of not just gifting books, but actually reading them together on Christmas Eve. Imagine the whole family cozied up in front of the fire, hot cocoa in one hand and a book in the other, quietly enjoying some calm reading time together. Quite a contrast to the sensory overload that can often mark the holiday, and a decidedly introvert-friendly tradition.
"The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday," Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association, told NPR in 2012. "Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading."
How did this Christmas book giving and reading tradition get started? According to jolabokaflod.org, it began during World War II after Iceland gained its independence from Denmark in 1944. Since paper was one of the few things not rationed during the war, Icelanders gifted one another books.
Every year since, a book catalog—the "Book Bulletin"—has been published by the Icelandic book trade and sent to every household in mid-November. People order books from the catalog to give as gifts for Christmas.
Hot cocoa and books are a Christmas Eve tradition in Iceland.
Photo by Andreea Radu on Unsplash
The hot cocoa is part of the tradition, as well as a Christmas ale called jolabland, which is a uniquely Icelandic orangey-malty fizzy drink.
The Jólabókaflóð tradition has a decidedly hygge feel to it, which makes sense considering Iceland's long, cold winters and cultural connection with Denmark. (Hygge = the Danish word that essentially means a warm and cozy atmosphere and sense of well-being.) Even if we don't have Scandinavian roots ourselves, we can all appreciate creating a space of comfort and warmth in the darkest, coldest time of the year (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).
And books are excellent gifts. They don't take up a lot of space, they can be enjoyed again and again and they can be regifted easily. A good book can teach us things, change our mindset and make us more empathetic. And all things considered, they're inexpensive—especially if you buy them secondhand.
But the reading books together part is where Jólabókaflóð really shines. So many holiday traditions are centered around the extroverts among us—the idea that introverts get to have their preferences not just tolerated, but honored, and on a major holiday no less, is just beautiful.
So get the family on board, gift a book, grab a cocoa and a good read, and spend Christmas Eve in cozy silence, reading with your loved ones. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a holiday.