The Icelandic Tradition Of Giving Books On Christmas Eve

Iceland is a nation of just over 300,000 people, but it is also a place where one in ten people writes and publishes a book. It is a country of bookworms, and for Icelanders books are much more than mere entertainment. Writing and storytelling are embedded in the history of the nation, with famous sagas that tell the stories of the Norse settlers and the 13th century Golden Age. There is a well-known phrase in Icelandic "ad ganga med bok I maganum", which translates to ''everyone gives birth to a book.''

After Halldor Laxness won the Nobel Prize in 1955, Icelandic authors took further encouragement to keep writing. Today, writers are respected and live well. Reading and writing are a part of Iceland’s cultural identity. With Iceland’s sky-high literacy rate, there are no restrictions for people to enjoy a menu of different genres from literary and erotic fiction to poetry, modern sagas, and children’s books. The Icelandic Literature Centre is in charge of promoting Icelandic literature at home and abroad. It awards grants for foreign publishers who wish to publish translations from Icelandic, and also for authors who wish to promote their books in Iceland’s home market.

UNESCO has designated Reykjavík as a City of Literature, and it is only the fifth city in the world to recieve this title, after Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, and Dublin. It is also the first non-native English speaking city to be chosen as a City of Literature.

Most of the books in Iceland are sold between September and December, in the months leading up to Christmas. What many people do not know is the wonderful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve, known as Jólabókaflóð or Christmas book flood. Every household gets a book catalogue or Bókatíðindi. People can then choose from around 700 different titles and decide which books they want to buy for their loved ones. Regardless of other gifts, books are always inevitable, and everyone receives at least one. Later, Icelanders spend a night reading what they have received, presumably with some coffee and chocolate. Quite cozy, right?

Photo: Shutterstock

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