I’m Dreaming of a White Jólabókaflóð.
Imagine this: It’s Christmas Eve. Outside the snow covers everything. Inside the family is gathered around the fire sipping hot chocolate and happily reading their Christmas presents. Yes, reading.
Christmas Eve in Iceland is a bibliophile’s dream holiday. Jólabókaflóð pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot means “Yule Book Flood.” That’s right, Christmas Eve is a time devoted to reading.
This national holiday dates back to World War II when paper was one of the few resources that was not rationed and strict currency restrictions limited the amount of giftware that could be imported. Books became a focus of Icelandic culture. To this day, the best Christmas gift is a book.
“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” says Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading.”
Each November Bokatidindi, or “Book Bulletin,” a catalog of new publications from the Iceland Publishers Association, arrives in every mailbox free to every home just in time for the annual Reykjavik Book Fair.
The capital city of Reykjavík is a designated UNESCO City of Literature. Iceland is the world’s third most literate country after Finland and Norway.
Reykjavik City Library checks out over 1.2 million books a year in a city of 200,000 residents. Fifty percent of Icelanders read more than eight books a year; ninety-three percent read at least one book a year (The Reykjavik Grapevine). By comparison, seventy-three per cent of Americans read at least one book a year.
Icelanders don’t just love to read books, they write them too. One in ten Icelanders publishes a book they have written. More books are published per capita than any other country with five titles published for every1,000 residents.
Such a great flood of literature makes for a book-rich Christmas Eve. After everyone has exchanged gifts with family and friends they continue celebrating by spending the rest of the evening reading. Christmas Eve refreshments include chocolates and a Christmas-specific Icelandic drink called Jólaöl, which is a non-alcoholic mixture of “malt extrakt” and Appelsín, an orange flavored soda.
Iceland isn’t the only place for national fall book festivals. France’s Le rentrée littéraire occurs when French publishers release their new titles just before French literature awards are announced.
Jólabókaflóð.spirit is making its way west. Celebrations are becoming popular in Portland, Oregon where Nordic themed celebrations are planned in multiple venues between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Bookstores are hosting parties to support indie authors, Portlanders are organizing book donation drives, folk music acts and pop up art shops. Book groups are doing book swaps similar to white elephant exchanges.
And closer to you, visions of atole, churros, and New Mexico themed stories dance in my head as I read until I fall asleep. Happy Jólabókaflóð to all and to all a good night!
As always the Alliance relies on the generosity of the community in order to continue to fund and expand literacy programs. For more information or to donate to the Children’s Reading Alliance, call Audrey Hartley or Jennifer Alvarado at 575-522-3713. Visit our website at www.childrensreadingalliance.org
Reading Solution columns are written by Rorie Measure, president of the Children’s Reading Alliance. Measure is a Reading Specialist, Curriculum Developer, Literacy Trainer and retired classroom teacher.