On Christmas Eve, Iceland celebrates the national tradition of Jólabókaflóð, the “Christmas Book Flood.
That evening, Icelanders anticipate and enjoy exchanging books. After they open and admire their books, family members retire to their individual beds and read themselves to sleep.
This literary tradition traces back to World War II, when the government restricted currency and imported gifts. In contrast, Icelanders enjoyed a flux of money because of the war. Fortunately, restrictions on imported paper remained lenient and books burgeoned as the country’s most popular gift for Christmas.
Fast forward to today and the holiday-reading tradition virtually supports the book-publishing industry. According to Kristjan B. Jonasson, former president of the Iceland Publishers Association, explained, “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”
Each Fall Icelanders receive a catalog of all the books published in their country that year. It’s not a promotion piece that automatically hits wastebaskets. Gift givers take the catalog seriously, combing through for favorite authors, anticipated titles, and unexpected adventures.
My niece introduced this lovely Christmas tradition to her family and me (Aunt Judy) on our recent Christmas Eve. She first read to us how Icelandic families exchange books and snuggle in to read. Then she gave each of us a book or magazine selected to our tastes. My great nieces (13, 11, 9), thrilled beyond expectation, thanked their mother repeatedly. The youngest ran to bed with the Star Wars trilogy clutched in her hands. “You’re awesome!” she yelled back at her parents. We all agreed with her.
I drove home deeply touched by this thoughtful, soul-enriching tradition, and felt warmed by my beloved family reading treasured books under the covers.
This also cheered me as an author. Although my books compete with millions of gift opportunities, perhaps someone anticipates my latest title and burrows in to read it. That hope makes the work worthwhile. It helps me persevere.
This year, believe people wait for your book or article. They see your printed name and delight at the thought of reading your words. They set apart time to absorb and enjoy. Your writing matters.
Judith Couchman is the author or compiler of more than 42 books, Bible studies, compilations, and Bible projects. Judith’s niece Melissa gave her The Secret Chord by Geraldine Books, a novel about King David.
Source: “In Iceland, People Spend Christmas Eve Giving Each Other the Gift of Books” by Rafi Schwartz. Copyright 2015 GOOD Worldwide, Inc. Good Magazine article at http//:magazine.good.is/articles/iceland-hristmas-book-flood-jolabokaflod.