Everything You Need to Know About the Christmas Book Flood

This Icelandic holiday is taking the book world by storm! Keep reading for more information on the Christmas Book Flood and its history.

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A row of books turned on their sides draped in multicolored Christmas lights and Christmas tree ornaments.

For many of us, December is a wonderful time full of holiday cheer and winter festivities. In Iceland, book lovers have extra reason to be joyful this month, as the annual Christmas book flood is underway. During this time, bibliophiles and casual readers alike give and receive books in a heartwarming holiday tradition that began almost 80 years ago. Read on to learn more about Iceland’s Christmas book flood!

What is the Christmas book flood?

An open book in front of a blurred Christmas tree with red ornaments and white lights.

Jólabókaflóð, meaning the Christmas book flood or the Yule book flood, is an Icelandic term used to describe the yearly release of new books in the months leading up to Christmas. These newly published titles are listed in a catalog called the Bókatíðindi, which is distributed to every household in Iceland for free. Shoppers then purchase the new releases as gifts, and on December 24, friends and family gather to exchange books with each other, drink hot chocolate, and read late into the night.

When did the Christmas book flood begin? 

A Christmas tree decorated with red ornaments, white lights, and a golden star standing next to a lit fireplace, over which hangs four red stockings.

The origins of the Christmas book flood can be traced back to World War II. In 1944, Iceland had strict limitations on imports due to the country’s poor economy, so many goods commonly given as Christmas gifts were restricted. Paper, however, was one of the goods not rationed during the war, so books were produced with the imported paper. The Icelandic Publishers Association issued the first Bókatíðindi during the holiday season of 1944, making books a popular gift that Christmas. From then on, the tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve stuck, and Christmas time remains the peak season for buying and gifting books in Iceland.

How can I celebrate?

A blue mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows in it surrounding by pieces of chocolate.

If you have bookish friends or family members, this is the perfect tradition to start with them! First, have everyone buy a book to gift to someone else; you can either pick names ahead of time or have everyone choose a book randomly at your gathering. Then, come together on Christmas Eve to enjoy a night of reading and sweet treats. As a book lover myself, I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Christmas Eve night than to curl up next to a crackling fire with a brand-new book and a warm cup of hot cocoa, surrounded by my loved ones.

How can I find books to gift for the Christmas book flood?

An assortment of Christmas gift boxes wrapped in red and white paper and tied with red, white, and gold ribbon.

While the official Bókatíðindi is only available in Icelandic, some publishers release seasonal catalogs of their upcoming titles for readers to browse. If you’re interested in doing your own book exchange this year, these catalogs are a great resource! Check out Simon and Schuster’s various fall 2023 catalogs here, as well as Bloomsbury’s recent catalogs here. Macmillan also posts some of their catalogs by category and imprint here.

If you’re curious about what the actual Bókatíðindi looks like, the 2023 version is available to view online here. I can’t read Icelandic, but just looking at the pages upon pages of book covers is exciting! You can also view some of the catalogs from years past here.

Without a doubt, Iceland’s Christmas book flood is every book lover’s dream come true. Whether you’re planning to add Jólabókaflóð to your list of winter traditions or not, I hope you have a gift-wrapped book in your future this holiday season!

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