What is Jólabókaflóð, you say?
Jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) means “Yule Book Flood”, a popular Christmas tradition from Iceland in which books are exchanged as gifts on Christmas Eve. The tradition originated during World War II when Iceland was under financial struggle and foreign imports were restricted. So there were very limited options when it came to present shopping. Paper happened to be very cheap, so books became the most popular gift. During the Christmas season, Icelandic publishing houses would print books in large quantities.
Even today, Iceland’s publishing industry is fueled by Christmas. The Christmas season officially begins when bókatíðindi, a catalog of all the newest books, is sent to every home. It’s a huge part of Icelandic culture, everyone shares a mutual love of reading and recommending their favorites through the act of gift giving!
Did you know? Iceland is the 3rd most literate country in the world! Finland and Norway are the 1st and 2nd! To round out the Scandinavian area, Denmark is 4th and Sweden is 5th… After Switzerland at 6th, the United States finally ranks 7th.
While Jólabókaflóð is an Icelandic tradition, anyone can celebrate!
Start a new tradition on Christmas Eve, where everyone gets to unwrap a brand new book to read before bed. Make hot chocolate or tea, dress up in your coziest pajamas, play quiet Christmas music in the background, and spend the evening reading as a family! (Sounds pretty hygge to me!)
If your children are older, you can host a bookish secret Santa. Have everyone put their names in a hat, and then whichever name each person draws is the person they have to buy a new book for! One of the most wonderful things about Jólabókaflóð is how it brings family and friends together through a mutual love of reading. Is there any gift more precious or personal than the gift of a favorite book?
For another fun Scandinavian tradition, you could get a Yule Goat! The Yule goat goes by many names depending on where you are – in Sweden it is the julbock, in Norway julebukk, and in Finland they call it olkipukki! But no matter what you call it, the Yule goat is just as beloved a Christmas symbol as Santa Claus or Rudolph!
While the exact origins of the Yule goat are unclear, it is believed that it comes from Pagan lore. Thor, Nordic god of thunder, was often depicted as riding in a chariot across the sky pulled by two goats called Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. The traditional Yule goat is made of straw or some sort of grain, as it was believed that the last sheaf of grain bundled at the harvest had magical properties. These bundles were formed into the shape of goats and used during Yule celebrations!
You can place your Yule goat under the tree on Christmas Eve, and it will guard all the presents (and books) until Christmas morning arrives!
Here are some of 2019’s best books to give as holiday presents this year!
Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum – Dr. Seuss, Andrew Joyner
What? A new release by Dr. Seuss? Based on one of his unpublished manuscripts, Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum is a non-fiction book all about looking at and appreciating art! Perfect for budding artists!
A Piglet Named Mercy – Kate Dicamillo, Chris Van Dusen
For fans of the Mercy Watson series, you won’t want to miss this picture-book prequel about how Mercy first came to Deckawoo Drive and changed the Watson’s lives forever!
Sulwe – Lupita Nyong’o, Vashti Harrison
From award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, a whimsical and moving picture book about a young girl gaining self-esteem and a love for her own dark skin.
Guts – Raina Telgemeier
In this exciting new installment to the Smile series, this graphic novel deals with topics of anxiety, therapy, and growing up with illness in a thoughtful, engaging way for younger readers!
Dragon Pearl – Yoon Ha Lee
This Korean-mythology inspired sci-fi tells the story of a girl named Min, who comes from a family of fox spirits but must keep her magic abilities secret. But when her older brother goes missing, rumored to have been in search of the mysterious Dragon Pearl, she decides to leave her impoverished planet and look for him herself.
White Bird – R. J. Palacio
For fans of Wonder and Auggie & Me, check out Palacio’s newest book which follows the story of Julian’s grandmother and her experiences as a young Jewish girl during World War II!
Sorcery of Thorns – Margaret Rogerson
Follow Elisabeth, raised as a foundling in one of the Great Libraries. There they keep the grimoires – magical books that contain the secrets of sorcery. The grimoires must be protected, for if they are damaged they transform into terrible monsters! When one of the most dangerous grimoires in the library is released from its cage, Elisabeth must embark on a dangerous mission to uncover who released it and why. Explore a rich world filled with demons, sorcerers, and peculiar books with minds of their own.
Wayward Son – Rainbow Rowell
You won’t want to miss the highly anticipated sequel to Carry On! Simon and Baz are back, and though they’ve already completed their hero’s journey their lives have only just begun…
I Wish You All the Best – Mason Deaver
The first YA novel with a nonbinary protagonist and written by a nonbinary author! When Ben comes out as nonbinary to their parents, they are kicked out of their home and forced to move in with their estranged older sister. Trying to keep a low profile at school, they somehow end up befriending the loud, charismatic Nathan who might become more than just a friend…
The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
From the bestselling author of The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern is finally back and with a brand new book full of masquerades, and pirates, and secret libraries hidden deep below the earth…
Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
One of the hottest new books of 2019 – explore an alternate reality in which a woman became president in 2016 from the perspective of the first son, Alex Clairmont-Diaz, and his hate-to-love romance with the prince of Wales!
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
You don’t want to miss Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut! Galaxy “Alex” Stern was the sole survivor of a horrific massacre, and one day she mysteriously receives a full ride scholarship to Yale! Things are definitely not as they seem when she is entrusted with the job of monitoring Yale’s many secret societies, soon discovering the dark and extraordinary secrets they each hold…
Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.
Sarah Cook has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She loves to read, daydream, and fangirl over her favorite anime and manga. As a K – 12 homeschool survivor and graduate, she is currently a creative writing major in college. She hopes to someday travel the world, write bestselling novels, and own 152 cats. You can follow her on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.