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A mom and daughter reading books while lying upside down on the floor next to a Christmas tree to celebrate the Christmas book flood.

The Icelandic Book Flood: Why You Should Give Books as a Gift

A gifting tradition where you start a book flood and read all day? Sign us up! Here’s why you should give books as a gift.

Every year on Christmas Eve, a book lover’s dream comes true: a flood of books fills the streets of Iceland. Literally? Not quite, but the reality is something close. Christmas Eve in Iceland is Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas book flood.” People all around Iceland buy books and gift them to family and friends on Christmas Eve. And then, the best part is, families spend the rest of the evening quietly reading together.

This tradition, one of many special Icelandic traditions, is hard to pronounce but easy to participate in. And there are plenty of other reasons you should consider giving books as gifts.

How the Famous Book Flood Started

Unsurprisingly, Iceland has a long history of storytelling, dating all the way back to the ninth century. However, it wasn’t until World War II that Icelanders began giving books as a cost-effective, accessible, and highly valued gift. Since paper was not rationed nor heavily taxed on import, books became the gift of choice. The official tradition didn’t start until 1944 when the Book Bulletin, a catalog of Christmas books, began.

With everything from cost to value, it’s clear why Iceland began gifting books for Christmas. However, many of those reasons are still valid today.

Why You Should Give Books as a Gift

Literacy is key for being successful and raising successful kids. Iceland boasts a near 100 percent literacy rate. To be fair, they already had one of the world’s highest literacy rates before Jolabokaflod. But starting the Christmas book flood sure didn’t hurt anything. In fact, it created a rich literary culture:

  • one-third of the Icelandic population reads books daily,
  • 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book,
  • 97 percent of households have at least one book,
  • Iceland published 834 fiction titles in 2021 alone,
  • Icelanders read an average of 2.3 books per month, and
  • young Icelanders frequently read in languages other than Icelandic.

If that and the sheer joy of reading aren’t enough to make you want to celebrate Jolabokaflod, here are some more reasons why you should give books as a gift:

It Has a Personal Touch

Selecting a book for someone is a very personal process. By putting in the effort to pick out a book that aligns with the recipient’s interests, hobbies, or tastes, you are demonstrating your sincerity. It shows that you’ve considered their individual preferences and took the time to choose something meaningful. And if you write a message in that book, it will become more than a book; it will become a memory.

There’s Something for Everyone

From photography books to graphic novels to all the genres of fiction, there’s something out there for everyone. And there are a lot of options. (Maybe too many, but at least you won’t come out of the book store empty handed.) This gives you a chance to find the one book (or books) you know they will love.

They Last a Lifetime

Books have a timeless quality. Unlike many other gifts that might lose their novelty over time, a book can be enjoyed repeatedly. It becomes a lasting presence on the bookshelf, providing ongoing enjoyment and memories.

They Are an Opportunity for Discovery

A true bookworm might have preferences, but they never look a gift book in the mouth. Whether it’s the exact book they wanted, gifting a book introduces the recipient to new ideas, worlds, and perspectives. It’s a chance for them to discover something new, especially if you chose a book they might not have considered.

They Are the Gateway to Relaxation and Escape

While we can’t give time, you can do the next best thing and give a book. Reading is a wonderful way to relax and unwind. By giving a book, you’re providing the recipient with an opportunity to escape from the stresses of daily life and immerse themselves in a different world.

They Create Geniuses

Why aren’t there more Einsteins in the world? Because they all have their noses stuck in a book! Books stimulate the mind and encourage intellectual curiosity. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a well-chosen book can spark thoughts, discussions, and a desire to learn more.

They Are the Perfect Gift for All Occasions

Can’t decide on a gift for a baby shower? Give a book. A graduation? Give a book with a handwritten sentimental note. Books are suitable for all kinds of occasions such as birthdays, holidays, graduations, and more. There’s a wide range of genres and topics to choose from, making it easy to find a book that suits the occasion and the recipient.

The Environment Loves Them

Yes, paper does come from harvesting trees. But that also means books are recyclable, and by choosing a printed book, you’re opting for a sustainable gift. This is actually really eco-friendly. Or you could choose digital media and e-books. No trees were harmed in the making!

They Are the Perfect Collector’s Item

Many avid readers often wish for a large library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and rolling ladders like in Beauty and the Beast. For them, receiving a book as a gift means they’re one step closer to their dream library. It adds to their collection of literary treasures, creating a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially when they organize their shelves just so with lights and trinkets and their favorite collector’s editions. #Shelfie!

They Are a Bridge between Cultures and Ages

The written word has been around for ages, in many different languages. These books travel through time, reflecting the culture, history, and values of generations and societies. Gifting a book from a specific time period or region, or about a particular topic, can foster a cultural connection and open a window into a different world.

They Are Pocket Therapists

Books are reliable, just like your trusty therapist. They are always there when you need them, offering you a shoulder when you need to cry, food when you’re hungry, and answers when you’re uncertain. Fiction, in particular, allows readers to step into the shoes of characters from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Giving a thought-provoking novel can promote empathy and understanding by allowing the recipient to see the world from a different perspective.

Start Your Own Book Flood

Doesn’t drowning in books sound like the best way to spend Christmas? Composed of our two favorite things—books and family—a Christmas book flood is the perfect tradition. This year, try flooding your house with books on Christmas Eve—or any day. There’s never a bad time to spend a day reading together with your loved ones.

Books to Inspire Your Christmas Book Flood

The cover of the board book Lit for Little Hands: A Christmas Carol.
Lit for Little Hands

A Christmas Carol

The cover of the picture book Christmas Fairies for Ouma.

Christmas Fairies for Ouma

The cover of the picture book Unicorn and Horse.

Unicorn (and Horse)

Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.

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