Iceland’s beautiful bookish Xmas tradition

As if we needed any more reason to think the Nordic countries really have it together (the Danish art of hygge, Finland’s baby boxes, all the saunas), there’s an Icelandic Christmas tradition that is irresistible for book-lovers like me.

Every year the Iceland Publishers Association sends out a free catalogue (Bokatidindi) of new books published that year. This leads to the jólabókaflóð (Christmas book flood), when loads of books are sold in the lead-up to Christmas Eve. But why? Because in Iceland there’s a wonderful tradition of giving each other books on Christmas Eve, and then retiring to bed for the evening with your new book and some chocolate. How awesome is that?

iceland book gift giving christmas xmas eve peter pan present

*thud* Sounds like a book!

Iceland is leagues ahead of many other countries in terms of literary love. Apparently 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime, and in 2009 the Reykjavík city library checked out an average of 6 books per person. It isn’t just the act of reading that is a mainstay in the country; books as objects are important too. Bryndís Loftsdottir of Penninn-Eymundsson bookstores says,

“The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift, you give a physical book. You don’t give e-books here.”

So if you’re giving books this year, why not let your nearest and dearest unwrap them one day early? I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for Christmas Day – when you might have to entertain guests, cook the dinner and fit in a winter walk – than by curling up the night before with a good book, a blanket and a bar of chocolate. Perfect.


Do you have any bookish Christmas traditions? I’d love to hear about them!

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