The small country (329,000 people) of Iceland boasts it has more writers, books published and books read than anywhere else in the world.
Can you imagine that? To those of us who are “Book People”, this is astonishing!
A tradition we can all be envious of is Jolabokaflod – the “Christmas Book Flood”. Christmas Eve is a time of giving books and stores are sold out long before the special night. Each person receives at least one print books (not ebooks) along with chocolate to enjoy for the rest of the evening when it is tradition to spend the night reading. It wasn’t long ago that all TV stations in Iceland stopped broadcasting from 6pm-10pm because everyone was reading!
The book season kicks off in September when each family receives Bokatidindi, a catalog of new publications from the Iceland Publishers Association distributed free to every Icelandic home. By early December book stores are sold out. Because of this amazing tradition, Reyckavik has been named by the United Nations as a “city of Literature” and it host the international children’s literature festival and the international Literary Festival.
Icelanders have a grand history of storytelling. The Icelandic Sagas written around the 13th century and have been heralded as outstanding masterpieces of literature right up there with the epics of Homer. Although the Vikings didn’t write them, they repeat the stories shared down through the Viking history. These tales are known to have inspired the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Morris, Auden, Tolkien and many others.
World War II inspired the tradition of giving books at Christmas. Due to restrictions on imports not much could be purchased for gifts. Paper however had fewer restrictions and books became a treasured gift. Many traditions come and go but in Iceland this tradition is still a treasured part of the holiday season.
Most people in Iceland believe they have a story to tell and are encouraged to write. 1 in 10 will publish a book and self-publishing is a thriving business.
I remember as a child here in America that a book was always among the gifts. I still have some of those treasured books.
What a wonderful legacy we could all leave by encouraging our families to value good books and wonderful stories. Let’s share the tradition this holiday season by taking the time to consider each friend and family in this very thoughtful and personal way!