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!
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?
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!
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.
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?
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have a Jólabókaflód tradition at your house? Tell us how you celebrate!
Photos by: Rachel Neumann