Yuletide is ideal for books, and for writing. Whether it is the ghost stories of M R James, which seem to politely cry out for an open fire to be enjoyed beside, or Philip Van Doren Stern’s ‘The Greatest Gift’, otherwise known to cinephiles as Frank Capra’s sublime ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, the midwinter festival is a perfect time to curl up with a tale or two.
In some cultures books and reading are an important Christmas tradition in their own right, sewn right into the fabric of the nation’s history itself.
Jólabókaflóð; an Icelandic tradition, which translates as Christmas Book Flood, that brings many Icelanders a new book to enjoy every Christmas Eve.
This book giving tradition began during the Second World War once Iceland had gained its independence from Denmark. Once scarce paper became a medium to be gifted and treasured in the form of books.
Every year the abundance of new books and conversation of literary matters increases as the Jólabókaflóð approaches. Iceland has the highest percentage of published authors per population density that any other country, meaning there are always lots of new books to choose from and much to discuss.
Ultimately though when the day arrives, each chosen volume, newly gifted by a loved-one, is taken to a favourite chair, and perhaps to bed on a chilly Icelandic Christmas Eve to be enjoyed by it’s new owner over a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of special Christmas beer (Jolabland).
I have only been to Iceland once, yet it is a place I hope to return to some day. Until then I don’t think any marauding Yule Lads (Iceland’s magically mischievous Christmas trolls) would mind if I borrow this tradition from here on out for my own family. In any event, I doubt they travel this far south, away from their beautiful country and welcoming Reykjavik, the world’s northern-most capital city, though they would be very welcome if they did.