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November 23, 2020

Jolabokaflod: A Christmas Book Tradition Perfect for a Pandemic Year

Coming up with holiday traditions that stick can be a challenge鈥攅specially with a global pandemic thrown into the mix. This year, more than ever, I think we鈥檝e all been looking forward to the holiday season with a bit of desperation, hoping the Christmas joy can pull us out of our 2020 funk. But chances are, many of our usual family traditions will look different (or be cancelled altogether) amid ongoing shutdowns and limitations on gatherings.

If you want to introduce a new family tradition or find a pandemic-friendly way to celebrate this year, look no further than J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 (Jolabokaflod).
What is Jolabokaflod?
Jolabokaflod, which translates to 鈥淵ule book flood,鈥 is an Icelandic tradition of giving and receiving books on Christmas Eve. In Iceland, the holiday season kicks off when each home receives its B贸kat铆冒indi (book bulletin) from the Iceland Publishers Association. They order and exchange books from the catalog then settle in and spend the holiday devouring the books.
As a self-professed book nerd, I love everything about this. What鈥檚 more, Jolabokaflod allegedly started during World War II as Icelanders tried to make the most of a rough situation. Sound familiar? Due to wartime rationing, many gift items were in short supply, but paper had no limitations. So books became the gift of choice.
How to Celebrate Jolabokaflod
There are no hard-and-fast rules for celebrating Jolabokaflod, but here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Set up a book exchange between members of special groups in your life, such as family, friends, church life group or coworkers. I'm part of an online writing community that has been hosting its own "Icelandic Book Exchange" for a few years now. Interested members complete a sign-up form with their name, address and book genre preferences. Then, the group admin selects pairs, and we choose a book to mail our partner before Christmas.鈥
2. If someone on your list is not a big reader, don鈥檛 count them out! Consider buying coloring books, activity books with crossword or Sudoku puzzles, joke books, cookbooks, books of travel or sports photography, or a Guinness World Records book.鈥
3. Expand your gift-giving to include items that complement a good book鈥攖hink new Christmas pajamas, hot cocoa, a fun mug, bookmarks or a cozy blanket. You can find all sorts of bookish goodies on Etsy. I鈥檓 also a big fan of Book Beau.鈥
4. Purchase from local bookstores to support small businesses that have struggled with the shutdowns and restrictions this year. This site can help you find your nearest local bookstore. If you are in Central Indiana, I recommend Turn the Page Books & Gifts, Kids Ink Children鈥檚 Bookstore, Indy Reads or Wild Geese Bookshop. If you are unable to shop in person, you can also support these shops with online purchases through (for physical books) and (for audiobooks).
Christmas will no doubt look different this year for most, but it can still be joyous. With a little creativity and help from our Icelandic friends, you could be on your way to a merry little (restful, book-filled) Christmas.

by Abby Nieten


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