The Enchanting World of Jolabokaflod: Iceland's Christmas Book Tradition

Delve into the cozy Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, the Yule Book Flood. Explore the magic of books, reading, and gifting during this heartwarming holiday season


blog author By Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

Have you ever wondered how it feels to be wrapped in a blanket of stories on a chilly Christmas Eve? Imagine, for a moment, that books are like warm cups of cocoa, each page a sip that warms your soul and takes the winter chill away. 

In Iceland, there's a tradition that embodies this very feeling. It's called Jolabokaflod. As the snow blankets the streets and the Northern Lights dance in the sky, Icelanders gift each other books and spend the night reading. 

It's a heartwarming tradition that turns the silent night into a symphony of turning pages and whispered tales. Dive with us into this enchanting world of Jolabokaflod, where Iceland drowns not in snow but in stories every Christmas Eve.

What Is The Jolabokaflod Tradition?

Jolabokaflod, which translates to 'The Christmas Book Flood,' is not just a tradition; it's the heartbeat of Icelandic culture. It's a celebration of literature, storytelling, and togetherness that holds a special place in every Icelander's heart.

Picture this: as the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve in Iceland, instead of unwrapping toys or gadgets, Icelanders are eagerly tearing open the crisp pages of brand-new books. Jolabokaflod is a cherished Icelandic tradition where loved ones exchange books as gifts. But it doesn't stop there.

The night is spent nestled in cozy corners, lost in tales of far-off lands or poetic verses, often accompanied by a side of delectable Jolabokaflod chocolate. It's not just a tradition; it's a cultural embrace of literature, a testament to Iceland's profound love for stories. In a world of fleeting digital distractions, Jolabokaflod stands as a beautiful reminder of the timeless allure of a good book.


How Do You Pronounce Jolabokaflod?

Navigating the linguistic maze of the Icelandic language can be a delightful challenge, especially when you encounter a gem like 'Jolabokaflod.' At first glance, it might seem like a tongue-twisting puzzle, but with a few tips, you'll be pronouncing it like a local in no time. 

Let's embark on this phonetic journey together: Begin with 'Yo,' as if you're casually calling out to someone. Follow it with 'la,' just like the musical note. The next part, 'bok,' rhymes neatly with 'dock.' Conclude with 'a-flot,' where 'flot' sounds akin to 'float' but with a shorter 'o'. Voila! 'Yo-la-bok-a-flot.'

For an auditory guide, platforms like YouTube offer pronunciation clips. The beauty of "Jolabokaflod" isn't just in its meaning, but also in its melodic sound. So, practice a bit, and soon, you'll be sharing both the word and its enchanting tradition with confidence.

The Historical Roots of Iceland's Christmas Book Tradition

The Iceland Christmas book tradition, known as Jolabokaflod, has deep-seated roots in Icelandic history dating back to World War II. Due to import restrictions, few commodities were available in Iceland – but paper was an exception.

As a result, books became a popular and cherished gift option, leading to the inception of the Jolabokaflod tradition. Over the years, this custom continued to grow, shaping Iceland's literary culture and firmly establishing its place in Icelandic Christmas celebrations.

The tradition has become so deeply ingrained that the months leading up to Christmas are marked by a flurry of book publishing, known as the 'Christmas Book Flood.' Thus, the Iceland Christmas book tradition, Jolabokaflod, is not merely a festive custom but a crucial cornerstone of Iceland's cultural and historical identity.

When Is Jolabokaflod Celebrated?

Can there be anything more enchanting than a tradition that turns a chilly winter's night into an oasis of stories? Every year on Christmas Eve, December 24th, Iceland transforms, much like a canvas coming alive with vibrant strokes of color. As families gather around festive tables, the anticipation is palpable. 

But what truly sets the night apart? The exchange of books. After a hearty meal, books are gifted and unwrapped, and the magic begins. Homes echo with the soft rustling of pages, stories unfolding like flowers in bloom. By the warmth of a fire or the soft glow of candlelight, tales are shared and cherished.

When is Jolabokaflod at its most magical? When the entire nation dives into a literary world, celebrating stories as age-old as time. If you're intrigued by this literary celebration, you might also be interested in exploring other festivals in Iceland, each offering a unique glimpse into the nation's vibrant culture.

Iceland christmas book tradition

The Impact Of Icelandic Books On Christmas Eve 

The tradition of immersing oneself in Iceland books on Christmas Eve is more than just a festive ritual; it's a testament to the nation's deep-rooted passion for literature. When one delves into this unique custom, its profound impact on Icelandic culture becomes evident.

Iceland, a nation that stands tall among the world's top book consumers per capita, has always cherished the written word. This adoration is further highlighted by its literary luminaries, such as Halldór Laxness, who clinched the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. But what fuels this fervor for books? 

For many Icelanders, books serve as a cozy sanctuary from the biting winter chill, a portal to explore imaginative realms during the extended, shadowy winter evenings. This age-old tradition continues to mold and inspire Icelandic literature, ensuring that the enchantment of stories remains woven into their Christmas festivities. Curious about the people behind this tradition? Explore the demographics of Iceland to learn more.

Icelandic books publishing

The Jolabokaflod Tradition And The Impact on Publishing 

Jolabokaflod is more than just a festive tradition in Iceland; it's a phenomenon that has significantly shaped the country's publishing landscape. This literary celebration has fostered a thriving environment for authors, publishers, and readers alike, making Iceland a beacon for bibliophiles worldwide.

The November Book Bulletin

Every year, as November approaches, the Icelandic publishing world buzzes with anticipation. This month heralds the release of the 'Bókatíðindi,' or the November Book Bulletin, a comprehensive catalog showcasing new literary releases

It's eagerly awaited by Icelanders, who flip through its pages to select their Jolabokaflod gifts. Publishers vie for a spot in this coveted bulletin, knowing that inclusion can significantly boost sales and readership. 

The Bókatíðindi is not just a catalog; it's a reflection of the year's literary trends and a testament to the country's undying love for books.

Rising Authors and Jolabokaflod

Jolabokaflod has become a golden opportunity for emerging Icelandic authors. With the entire nation's focus on books during this season, new writers have a unique platform to introduce their works.

The tradition has given rise to many debut authors, gaining recognition and building a dedicated readership. Publishers often take risks on fresh voices, banking on the Jolabokaflod spirit to drive interest and sales.

For many authors, this period can be a turning point in their literary careers, with their works becoming part of the cherished Christmas Eve reading ritual. The tradition, thus, not only celebrates literature but actively nurtures and promotes new talent in the Icelandic literary scene.

Icelandic book authors

Fun Facts About Jolabokaflod and Reading in Iceland

To fully understand the Jolabokaflod tradition and how much Icelanders love their books, have a look at some of these fascinating facts:

  • Literary Nation: 1 in 10 Icelanders will write and publish a book in their lifetime, showcasing the country's deep-rooted literary culture.
  • Avid Readers: A staggering 50% of Icelanders read more than eight books annually, while an impressive 93% ensure they dive into at least one book each year.
  • Library Popularity: Reykjavík City Library, a beacon for book lovers, saw 700,000 visitors in 2009, a significant number considering Reykjavík's population of 200,000. That same year, book loans reached a whopping 1.2 million!
  • Reading Trends: The average number of books read increased from 2 to 2.3 in two years. Readers with two or more children read more, while those aged 18-24 read fewer books.
  • Digital Shift: The reading of printed books has decreased since 2018, but audiobook consumption has risen.
  • Language Preferences: Readers aged 18-35 are more likely to read in languages other than Icelandic.

Icelandic avid readers

Savoring Jolabokaflod Chocolate with Your Book

One cannot fully savor the magic of Jolabokaflod without indulging in some exquisite Icelandic chocolate. Let's explore the artisans behind these delectable treats and the unique flavors that pair perfectly with your chosen book genre.

Icelandic Chocolatiers

For many Icelanders, Jolabokaflod is as much about the rich, creamy Jolabokaflod chocolate accompanying the books as it is about the literature itself. The country boasts a stunning array of chocolatiers, each bringing their unique flair to the creation of these indulgences.

Notable among them is Omnom Chocolate, a small-batch, craft chocolate company based in 

Reykjavik, known for its high-quality beans and artistic packaging. Then there's Siríus, a chocolatier with a history dating back to 1920, renowned for its classic chocolate bars

These artisans lovingly create their confections, ensuring that each bite adds a dash of sweetness to the Jolabokaflod experience.

jolabokaflod tradition

Chocolate Flavors and Pairings

The art of pairing the right Jolabokaflod chocolate with your chosen book genre truly elevates the Jolabokaflod experience, making it a multisensory delight. Here's a guide to some delicious chocolates and the genres they pair best with.

  • Intense Thrillers & Mystery Novels: Opt for a dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. It's slightly bitter aftertaste complements the suspense and intensity of the plot.
  • Romance & Heartfelt Drama: A milk chocolate with a sweet, creamy profile is the ideal match. Its smoothness mirrors the emotional depth and tenderness of these genres.
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction: Dive into unique flavors like sea salt licorice or berry-infused chocolates. These unexpected tastes add an element of surprise, echoing the twists and turns of fantastical tales.

iceland books Christmas Eve

Pairing Jolabokaflod with Traditional Icelandic Delicacies

While Jolabokaflod chocolate undoubtedly reigns as the preferred accompaniment to a good book during Jolabokaflod, other traditional Icelandic delicacies also offer a delightful culinary backdrop to the reading experience. Here are some of the most popular Icelandic dishes that pair perfectly with your books:

  • Skyr: Pair your book with this creamy, yogurt-like dairy product, perhaps topped with berries or a drizzle of honey for added sweetness.
  • Hangikjöt (Smoked Lamb): Enjoy a savory bite of this traditional smoked meat while diving into historical or epic tales.
  • Kleinur: These Icelandic twisted doughnuts are perfect with a light-hearted comedy or romance, offering a sweet treat with every page turn.
  • Laufabrauð (Leaf Bread): This crispy, thin bread, often decorated with intricate patterns, pairs well with folklore or tales centered around Icelandic traditions.
  • Pylsur (Icelandic Hot Dog): Grab a quick bite of this popular street food, topped with a mix of sauces, while enjoying a modern Icelandic thriller or mystery.
  • Brennivín: Sip on this traditional Icelandic schnapps, also known as 'Black Death,' when reading intense dramas or dark comedies.
  • Rúgbrauð (Rye Bread): This dense, dark bread, often baked underground using geothermal heat, is perfect with historical novels or sagas, offering a taste of Iceland's past.

jolabokaflod chocolate

How To Create The Perfect Jolabokaflod Ambiance

Jolabokaflod, Iceland's cherished Christmas Eve book tradition, is as much about the ambiance as it is about the literature. To truly immerse oneself in the spirit of this festive reading ritual, creating the perfect setting is essential. Here are some tips to help you set the mood for a cozy Jolabokaflod experience:

  • Choose Your Nook: Find a comfortable, quiet spot in your house where you can curl up with your book. Add soft cushions or a cozy throw for added warmth.
  • Set the Light: Soft, warm light from a table lamp or candle can enhance your reading experience, offering just the right amount of brightness without strain.
  • Scented Candles: Opt for winter fragrances like pine, cinnamon, or vanilla to evoke the festive spirit.
  • Create a Soundscape: If you enjoy some background noise, consider soft instrumental music or a nature sounds playlist.
  • Stay Warm: Keep your favorite blanket or shawl nearby to snuggle into as you dive into your book.
  • Have your Treats Close: Don't forget your chosen Jolabokaflod chocolate and traditional Icelandic delicacies. Keeping them within reach ensures uninterrupted reading.
  • Warm Beverages: Prepare a steaming mug of hot cocoa, tea, or mulled wine to keep you warm as you delve into your book.
  • Disconnect: To fully immerse in the Jolabokaflod spirit, consider turning off your phone or putting it on silent mode.

when is jolabokaflod

How To Share Jolabokaflod With Family And Friends

Jolabokaflod is a wonderful way to bring your family and friends together this Christmas season. Whether it's in person or virtually, here are some tips on how you can make your Jolabokaflod celebration extra special:

  • Gather Your Books: Ask each person to bring their favorite book or one they have been meaning to read. Alternatively, you can exchange books with each other to create an exciting mix of genres and stories.
  • Set the Ambiance: Follow our tips on creating the perfect Jolabokaflod atmosphere for your gathering.
  • Enjoy Some Treats: Delight in some traditional Icelandic delicacies or a cozy Christmas beverage as you delve into your books.
  • Plan Some Activities: After everyone has finished their books, plan some fun activities related to the stories. Play charades, draw pictures inspired by the characters, or simply discuss your favorite scenes.
  • Exchange Gifts: If you are celebrating in person, have each guest bring a small surprise gift for someone else. This can be anything from little trinkets to homemade goodies.
  • Share Your Thoughts: Spend time reflecting on the books and stories shared during your Jolabokaflod. Discuss what resonated with you most or how it made you feel. Exchange thoughts and feelings without judgment to create a meaningful bond with your loved ones. 
  • Share The Love: Spread the festive cheer by sharing your Jolabokaflod experience with family and friends on social media and using the hashtag #Jolabokaflod. 

Icelandic Christmas

Jolabokaflod Gift Ideas For Every Type of Bookworm

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to books. But if you're looking for the perfect Jolabokaflod gift, here are some ideas that will put a smile on any bookworm's face.


  • For The Adventurer: Give them a ticket to explore the world with a book in hand. Whether it's an all-expenses-paid trip or a small getaway, they'll be sure to have fun and come back with stories that will last for years. 
  • For The Knowledge Seeker: Inspire their love of learning with a subscription to their favorite magazine, journal, or podcast. This thoughtful gift will give them something to look forward to each month and help keep their mind sharp. 
  • For The Homebody: Surprise them with a cozy Jolabokaflod bundle that includes all the essentials for a night in, like hot cocoa, fuzzy slippers, warm blankets, and, of course - a good book! 
  • For The Storyteller: Encourage their creative side with writing supplies (like notebooks or pens) and books on the art of storytelling. Even if they don't consider themselves writers, they will appreciate this thoughtful gesture.

Christmas Book Tradition

Other Cherished Icelandic Christmas Traditions

Iceland, with its rich cultural tapestry, boasts a myriad of unique Christmas traditions that have been passed down through generations. While Jolabokaflod holds a special place in the hearts of Icelanders, there are other festive customs that equally captivate and enchant both locals and visitors alike.

  • The Yule Lads: Iceland has a unique take on Santa Claus with thirteen playful figures known as the Yule Lads. These characters visit homes on consecutive nights leading up to Christmas, leaving gifts for well-behaved children and playing pranks on the naughty ones. Each Yule Lad boasts his unique personality and antics, adding a sense of excitement and unpredictability to Icelandic Christmas.
  • Laufabrauð (Leaf Bread): A staple of Icelandic Christmas celebrations, Laufabrauð, or Leaf Bread, is an intricately hand-carved, crispy bread deep-fried to perfection. The making of Laufabrauð often involves family members of all generations, symbolizing meticulous craftsmanship and the spirit of togetherness that characterizes Icelandic Christmases.
  • The Christmas Cat: Icelandic folklore features a unique festive creature known as the Christmas Cat. This giant feline is said to roam the Icelandic landscape during Christmas, preying on those who haven't received new clothes for the festive season. The tale encourages children to behave well throughout the year, underlining the importance of hard work and preparation for the harsh Icelandic winter.

Iceland best Christmas traditions

The Best Spots in Iceland to Revel in Jolabokaflod

As Jolabokaflod sweeps across the nation, certain spots in Iceland become magical havens for book lovers. These locales each offer a unique way to celebrate Jolabokaflod, capturing the essence of this cherished tradition.

Reykjavík's Literary Corners

Reykjavík, the capital city, transforms into a literary wonderland during Jolabokaflod. The city's quaint bookstores and cafés brim with eager readers, immersing themselves in the enchanting world of books. 

Spots like the historic Eymundsson bookstore are filled with locals and tourists alike hunting for their Jolabokaflod reads amidst the store's vast collection. Charming local cafés, like Cafe Babalu and Kaffitár, offer warm and cozy corners where you can enjoy a hot beverage while delving into your new book, truly encapsulating the festive, literary spirit of Jolabokaflod. 

Akureyri's Cozy Nooks

Head to the Northeastern port town of Akureyri during December, and you'll find it decked in festive decorations and filled with joyful locals. Take a stroll down any of the winding streets, and you will come across quaint, cozy cafés bustling with book lovers gathered around tables, celebrating Jolabokaflod.

Stop by Kaffi Ilmur for some of the best coffee in town and settle down with your book. If you're looking for a special Jolabokaflod souvenir, pop by Fródi's antiquarian bookshop, an independent bookstore that stocks some of the most obscure titles by Icelandic authors.

when is jolabokaflod

The Remote Westfjords

The majestic Westfjords region is one of Iceland's most naturally beautiful landscapes. It's the perfect spot to escape into nature and immerse yourself in books during Jolabokaflod. Take a dip in one of the natural hot springs or soak up the stunning views as you explore the area's vast terrain.

Plus, with accommodation options ranging from camping sites to quaint country cottages, you can find yourself a cozy spot to hunker down and delve into your book, no matter where you decide to stay.

Sharing Iceland's Jolabokaflod Joy

As Jolabokaflod descends upon Reykjavík, the city becomes a mesmerizing tableau of literary enchantment. Streets glisten under a canopy of twinkling lights, while whispers of age-old sagas and contemporary tales float through the crisp air.

Amidst this magical setting, there's no better way to explore every nook and cranny than with a car from Reykjavík Cars. Imagine the freedom of cruising down snow-draped lanes, the heater keeping you cozy as you journey from one literary hotspot to another.

Renting a car in Reykjavík isn't just about convenience; it's an invitation to unlock unparalleled adventures to chart your own path in this storybook setting. Dive deep into the Jolabokaflod spirit, with the open road beckoning and countless tales awaiting discovery.

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