Iceland’s Christmas Book Flood Tradition Goes Global Skip to content
Iceland Publishers' Association 2023 book fair
Photo: Golli. Icelandic Publishers’ Association 2023 book fair.

Iceland’s Christmas Book Flood Tradition Goes Global

The Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóðið, or the Christmas Book Flood, seems to have achieved global popularity. Heiðar Ingi Svansson, Chair of the Association of Icelandic Publishers, has told Morgunblaðið that while he has long sensed interest in the phenomenon among international publishers, the enthusiasm among the general public has been surprising.

“Thousands of posts” on social media

As noted in an article published in the newspaper Morgunblaðið this morning, reading enthusiasts around the world have increasingly shown interest in the phenomenon of the Christmas book flood (i.e. jólabókaflóðið, referring to the Icelandic tradition of gifting books for Christmas and spending the holiday reading in cosy surroundings, often with a cup of hot cocoa or chocolate in hand). Morgunblaðið claimed that thousands of posts celebrating this tradition can be observed on social media.

To substantiate this claim, the news outlet pointed to a post from Junía Lin Jónsdóttir, sister of Icelandic musician Laufey, who recently introduced her followers on TikTok to the Christmas book flood. Likewise, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who boasts approximately 10 million followers, shared an Instagram post about the phenomenon.

The origins of the Christmas Book Flood can be attributed to Iceland’s deep-rooted literary history and, during World War II, stringent currency restrictions. These restrictions curtailed the import of various gifts, but with more relaxed rules on importing paper, books emerged as the go-to Christmas present.

Surprising popularity

Morgunblaðið spoke to Heiðar Ingi Svansson, Chairman of the Association of Icelandic Publishers, who agreed that the Christmas Book Flood appeared to have attracted global attention: “I’m on the board of an international publishers association, and I am often asked about this phenomenon. But it’s surprising to see how widespread it has become among the general public. It travels through some channels on social media, and you see people all over the world celebrating the tradition,” Heiðar Ingi stated.

Morgunblaðið noted that determining the exact origins of this trend was challenging. The Christmas Book Flood may have gained international attention in 2012 with coverage on NPR’s website, possibly marking a sort of inception point. Whatever the case,  media attention has steadily grown annually, contributing to the widespread popularity of the phenomenon. “A quick online search reveals that the Christmas Book Flood has now reached audiences in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the UK, and various European countries,” Morgunblaðið noted.

Eschewing the phones, embracing the books

“This romantic idea of us cuddling in log cabins with hot cocoa, in a land of fire and ice, is appealing. Many people may also want to encourage more family time during the holidays, with people uniting over books instead of spending time on their phones,” Heiðar Ingi stated.

Morgunblaðið also noted that there are instances where bookstores offer specially assembled packages for people to enjoy the Christmas Book Flood. One such package, advertised for sale on Instagram, includes three books, cosy socks, a festive candle, and chocolate. Customers being offered free gift-wrapping and chocolate with every book purchase is also common. Publishers and bloggers have also seized upon the Christmas book flood for marketing purposes.

Heiðar Ingi told Morgunblaðið that he has often been interviewed by foreign media about this phenomenon. Next week, for instance, he has been invited for a live interview on CNN. “It will be fun. I had to send them an audio clip because they wanted to prepare for the pronunciation of jólabókaflóð.”

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