Christmastime is a magical time for literacy in Iceland. In fact, it marks one of the small country’s greatest traditions.
Jólabókaflóðið (Icelandic for "Yule book flood"), also known as the “Christmas Book Flood,” is the annual release of hundreds upon hundreds of new books in Iceland that occurs in the months leading up to Christmas. Each year, the free catalog bókatíðindi ("book news") of newly published books is distributed to every single mailbox across the country.
A Historical Literacy Tradition
According to historical writer Hildur Knutsdottir, the Christmas Book Flood tradition dates all the way back to World War II. Nearly 80 years ago, strict currency restrictions limited the amount of imported giftware in Iceland, making holiday shopping a much more difficult task. However, there were lighter restrictions on paper imports. That led to a higher production rate of books and an increased interest in purchasing those books as gifts. Today, this continued shopping tradition is known as the Christmas Book Flood.
According to Baldur Bjarnason, an Icelandic book industry researcher, of the 319,000 people who live in Iceland, most if its population reads books. That’s incredible! Most people actually buy several books a year spanning various genres, especially fiction and biographies.
During this very exciting time of the year, the role of bookstores changes and they become high-traffic gathering hubs for authors of all genres to promote, read, and sign their latest books. The continuous literary festival is a favorite tradition of Icelanders and a unique celebration of literacy.
The festive tradition has evolved in recent years to accommodate some of the financial challenges faced by authors who release their new titles only during the holiday season for the flood.
But more importantly, the tradition of the Christmas Book Flood lives on and will continue to be a symbol of literacy and its significance in Iceland for decades to come.