Jolabokaflod: the Icelandic Christmas tradition that bookworms will love

Looking for a new Christmas Eve tradition? The Icelandic Jolabokaflod involves books, chocolate, and quality time — need we say more?

Jolabokaflod, or Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced: yo-la-bok-a-flot) is the term used to describe the annual “flood” of books that are released in Iceland during the weeks leading up to Christmas, which are then bought as presents to be given on Christmas Eve. A book lover’s dream, right?

The history of Jolabokaflod goes back to WWII, where paper (i.e. books) was one of the only items that wasn’t rationed as strictly in Iceland. At the time, Iceland’s population was too small to support a fully-developed publishing industry, so publishers flooded the country with new releases in the final weeks of the year (i.e. Christmas time!) Since other gifts were in short supply, Icelanders enthusiastically bought books as Christmas presents for their loved ones. Hence, the tradition was born.

Jolabokaflod icelandic book store
An Icelandic bookstore (Photo: Dammit Jack via Flickr)

Jolabokaflod has remained popular throughout the years, with the Icelandic book trade having published a catalogue – Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) — every year since 1944. Sent to every home in the country during the Reykjavik Book Fair, Icelanders use the Bókatíðindi to order books as Christmas presents for their friends and family.


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Traditionally, the gifted books are opened on Christmas Eve, read straightaway, and accompanied by drinking hot cocoa, or a Christmas cocktail called Jólabland (made by mixing orange soda, brown ale, and Coca Cola.)


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With such a rich tradition that revolves around books, it’s no surprise that the people of Iceland are some of the biggest bookworms in the world — on average, Icelanders read approximately 2.3 books per month! Statistics also show that in Iceland, 1 in 10 people will publish a book in their lifetime, and in 2011 Reykjavík was designated a UNESCO City of Literature. It’s probably one of the best places in the world to be a reader, writer, or general lover of literature.

If you’re into the idea of the heartwarming and wholesome Jolabokaflod/Jólabókaflóðið, but aren’t sure which book to get your loved ones: check out our list of the best books for gifts, here!