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Jólabókaflód: a Christmas Tradition for Book-Loving Families

Once upon a time, the people of Iceland developed a wonderful holiday tradition. And then, thanks to the power of the Internet, the rest of the world learned of this delightful holiday activity and adopted it wholeheartedly. If you haven’t already joined the fun of Jólabókaflód, you’re about to discover a jolly holiday treat!

child holding a wrapped Jolabokaflod gift

What Is Jólabókaflód?

Great question! The translation of Jólabókaflód is “Christmas book flood” and refers to the flood of new books published in Iceland each year in advance of the Christmas season. The word is tricky to pronounce in English, but if you say yo-la-boke-uh-flowed, you’ll be close. 😊

Today, the word Jólabókaflód is associated with a charming Icelandic tradition in which family members exchange books on Christmas Eve and then snuggle into their favorite cozy reading spot along with their new books and some chocolate. The tradition is said to date back to World War II when paper wasn’t rationed in Iceland and books were popular gifts. It remains a sweet and simple tradition. Books and chocolate–what’s not to love?

mother and two little girls opening wrapped gifts for Jolabokaflod

8 Ways to Create Your Own Jólabókaflód Traditions

Some of the best traditions are born when you personalize them to suit your family. Here are some Jólabókaflód variations to help jump-start your plans. Feel free to fine tune the ideas below in whatever ways will delight your family the most!

  1. Draw Names

    Exchanging names and keeping them secret adds a heightened sense of mystery to the occasion. Write the name of each family member on a slip of paper and ask each person to draw a name. But don’t tell anyone whose name you drew! On the night of the Jólabókaflód exchange, each giver can reveal their identity to the recipient.

  2. Add Other Elements

    In addition to books, why not add another element of fun? Perhaps each family member receives a new bookmark along with their book. Some families exchange coffee mugs; others exchange ornaments. What extra treat would your family love most?

  3. girl holding a Santa cup filled with hot chocolate
  4. Change the Date

    Jólabókaflód doesn’t have to occur on Christmas Eve. You could plan it for a few days before or after Christmas, or kick off the Christmas season with a Thanksgiving Jólabókaflód (an event that some of us fondly call Thanksgivabokaflod, which seems fitting since you “give a book”).

  5. Make Things Sweet

    Here’s another area where it’s fun to improvise. In Iceland, the book exchange tradition involves a cup of hot chocolate or some type of warm holiday beverage, but the flood of Jólabókaflód memes on social media have generally suggested eating chocolate on Christmas Eve while reading your new book. Perhaps you could distribute chocolate bars along with the books, or opt for foil-wrapped chocolates in Christmas colors, or skip the chocolate in favor of candy canes.

  6. two little girls smiling and drinking hot chocolate
  7. Have a Book Swap

    Instead of drawing names and choosing a book specifically for your recipient, try this variation: Each person chooses a book that they have particularly enjoyed and all the books go in a stack. Each family member then chooses a book that looks interesting to them.

  8. Consider Themed Books

    Make Jólabókaflód even more interesting by choosing a theme for the books. Maybe everyone can exchange Christmas-themed books, or books related to history, or nature-themed books. Graphic novels? Poetry books? You could even choose picture books as your theme and give each person (even adults!) a picture book.

  9. dad and child reading a picture book together for Jolabokaflod
  10. Hold a Virtual Jólabókaflód

    Holiday gatherings may look a little different this year, but you don’t have to get together in person to celebrate the fun of Jólabókaflód! Send a small package containing a book and some chocolate to surprise a loved one with some holiday fun. Or plan a virtual Jólabókaflód via video chat and exchange books at the same time.

  11. Choosing Books for Jólabókaflód

    Shopping for books is always a treat, but it can be challenging to choose the perfect book for each family member. Each person could make a short list of desired titles, or you can try to surprise them with a book you hope they’ll love. If you need ideas for the little ones on your Jólabókaflód list, be sure to check out our reviews and lists of picture books and chapter books.

  12. girl reading a book and drinking hot chocolate

    Do you have a Jólabókaflód tradition at your house? Tell us how you celebrate!

    Photos by: Rachel Neumann

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Lynette Hunt

says:

Good idea! We might do this next Thanksgiving.

Hayle

says:

Love this idea!! Maybe next Christmas we will do something like this!!

Karrie

says:

What a great tradition! We may have to try something like this. Thanks for sharing the idea.

Tracey Masters

says:

I have a ton of Christmas books. I think we’ll do this tonight!

Rebecca

says:

What a great idea. I used to work at the library and will share this with friends there. Also, thanks for the book suggestions.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Your welcome, Rebecca!

Sarah

says:

This is such a great idea! Thank you!

Robin Hanson

says:

Thank You for all your weekly emails.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Robin!

Candice

says:

I love this!

Lydia R.

says:

Something to consider for next Christmas!

For my older one’s birthday, half the time we have a gently used book exchange instead of presents. I always brought extra books for those who didn’t bring a book; it’s a nice way to get books to new homes every year.

Jennavieve

says:

This sounds like soo much fun! I’ll have to keep it in mind for next year! Cant wait!

Paula V.

says:

I love the flexibility offered. I get stuck sometimes on the “rules” and love being reminded that I can use the parts that work for us and change/remove the parts that don’t.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this helped you to think of how you can implement this in a way that fits for you, Paula!

Debra C

says:

My Usbourne lady offers a 12 books of Christmas service, so we have lots of new books for the kids this year. But I’m thinking we need to get something like this going for the adults now.

Brandi

says:

I love this idea! We’ll probably move it to New Year’s Eve in our family though. We stay up then anyways.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I do like the idea of bringing in the New Year with books and chocolate, Brandi!

Anu

says:

I just recently learned about this tradition!! Books and chocolate?!?! My faves! It truly sounds wonderful and I can’t wait to try it with my kids and husband!

Hannah Hsi

says:

This is so cute! I love seeing the kids getting lost in a book.

Susan E Stitch

says:

Such a brilliant idea!

Simah

says:

Awesome ideas! I am so glad all my kids love books. They are a perfect gift!

Jess

says:

Thank you for sharing this tradition. I wasn’t aware. I find it so interesting.

Erin

says:

I love this! What a great idea!

Mira

says:

I had never heard of this tradition. I find it really cute! Thanks for sharing!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Mira!

Brandi

says:

I’ve heard of this tradition a few times before and it still sounds fun. We enjoy reading and wtiting books for each other almost daily, though, so I guess ours is a year-long version. :)

Pamela

says:

I think this is a wonderful tradition. I try to include a book with each of our grandchildren’s gifts.

Rhonda

says:

What a great tradition. think I might start it in my household.

Terri Shaw

says:

Oh, wow, you have some great ideas in this posting. Thank you for sharing.

Colleen Day

says:

Such a great tradition, I think we’ll give it a try :)

Debbie

says:

It’s so fun to celebrate with other cultures and traditions. Thanks for sharing the ideas.

Rebekah Noel

says:

We do this usually. I am not sure if we can this year because our local used bookstore is closed due to Covid. 😢

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It makes me sad when bookstores close, Rebekah, even temporarily. I hope yours opens soon.

Rebekah Caneda

says:

What a fun idea!! I love it!!

Holly

says:

That sounds like fun!!!

Laura

says:

What a wonderful tradition!

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