A Well-Read Holiday Tradition

Alice Briggs

Jolabokflod roughly translates to “the Christmas Book Flood” and is a delightful tradition you might want to begin with your friends or family this year. It is an Icelandic tradition that started upon Iceland’s independence from Denmark in 1944. Each year, Icelanders give one another gifts, and they are encouraged to begin reading right after the Christmas Eve evening meal. What could be more delightful than curling up in front of a fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate and reading a great book on Christmas Eve?


This delightful tradition has beginnings that we all can take our cue from this holiday season. After World War II, many commodities in Europe were in very short supply. Paper was one thing that Iceland had an abundance of. Books were reasonably priced and readily available, so out of difficulties in other areas, a rich and delightful tradition was born. While paper has increased in price along with most other goods in 2022, books remain relatively inexpensive, making them excellent gift options for everyone on your list.

Have friends and family far flung and not all able to get together this year? This is a perfect time to start a Jolabokflod tradition of your own. Books can be easily sent through the mail, or ordered through an online retailer and shipped directly to the recipient.

One friend group started this tradition during the lockdowns, and it continues as the members are from many countries. This is how they do it:

  • A coordinator gathers names, addresses, and book lists from willing participants.
  • The coordinator assigns each participant their person to buy for, which is kept secret.
  • Each participant chooses, purchases, and ships the book. (Amazon makes this easy for internationally far flung friends.
  • At an agreed upon time, everyone hops on zoom and opens their books in turn, trying to guess who gave them the book.

With friends or family, in person or virtually, Jolabokflod is a wonderful tradition you can start, and we bet you’ll love it!