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Jólabókaflóð: An Icelandic Christmas tradition

By Katie Cline


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,

everyone was reading… even the mouse.


Christmas Eve in Iceland is a book worm’s dream come true. On the evening of the 24th, Icelanders celebrate Jólabókaflóð by exchanging books with their loved ones, then spending the night reading together surrounded by holiday treats and yuletide merriment.

Jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-lah-bo-ka-flot) is a decades-old Icelandic tradition that roughly translates to “Yule book flood”. Iceland ranks in the top five of book-loving countries, coming in only behind Finland and Norway, so the Jólabókaflóð tradition makes a lot of sense. In the months before Christmas, starting as early as September, publishers increase their production and number of releases to satisfy the holiday’s literary needs. In fact, the majority of Iceland’s book output occurs within the two or three months before Christmas.

According to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knutsdottir, the tradition dates back to WWII when currency restrictions strictly limited the type and amount of gifts imported to Iceland.  The restrictions placed on paper were far less stringent, so books became the ultimate gift, and the rest is history!

Of course, you can find book lovers in every country exchanging books for Christmas. But in recent years, with the rise of social media and the internet, previously regionally-secluded traditions like Jólabókaflóð have been picked up and celebrated the world over.

What better way to spend a Christmas evening than curled by the light of the fire with loved ones as you sip cocoa and delve into a literary masterpiece. Of course, Christmas morning present exchanges aren’t likely to be replaced by Christmas Eve reading circles in America any time soon, but the simplicity and old-fashioned, genuine spirit behind Jólabókaflóð might be just what the holidays need.


Atlantic Publishing has a variety of nonfiction and fiction books that would be perfect to share with your family this Jólabókaflóð! Bring the gift of reading to your home with Atlantic this holiday!

Bring Jólabókaflóð to your home this Christmas and start a new family tradition!

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