By Susan DeLay
Legend has it every Icelander is born with a lofty dream—to write a book. (Ten percent of them make that dream come true.) Icelanders are so crazy about books, they have dedicated an entire holiday to the Yule Book Flood, otherwise known as Jólabókaflóð. (I can’t pronounce it either.)
The book flood festivities officially started in 1944 while World War II raged on. Importing and exporting was a challenge, what with all those Nazi U-boats and wolfpacks patrolling the North Atlantic. I’m sure they were waiting for an opportune moment to bombard residents of the neutral country with copies of “Mein Kampf.”
Teddy Bears and nutcrackers weren’t too popular as gifts, considering they were primarily manufactured in Germany, home of the book-burning Nazis.
Iceland isn’t exactly a hotbed of manufacturing, so options for gift exchanges were limited. But for some reason, the small country had an abundance of inexpensive paper. Where there’s paper, there’s likely to be ink. And where there’s ink and paper, well, you do the math.
As 1944 drew to an end, publishers blitzed the marketplace with Kokatidindi, an exhaustive journal that listed every book published during the year. The result? Iceland’s residents turned to gift wrapping books. The war ended and things eventually returned to normal, but Jólabókaflóð carried on. The long-standing tradition is still alive and well.
While Americans await the launch of Black Friday, ushering them into the frenzy of the holidays, Icelanders eagerly await the event that kicks off their unique holiday—the arrival of the Bokatidindi. The catalog is delivered to every single mailbox, sending Icelanders into a month-long adventure, selecting the perfect tomes for friends and family.
There are some rules:
Books are ink-on-paper casebound books. Gifts must not include paperbacks, and don’t bother with e-books, which are practically an affront to readers. Besides, how would you wrap an e-book? Books gifted by Icelanders are a beautiful tribute to the written word that can be held, read, placed in a bookcase and handed down to future generations.
The biggest book sales are usually fiction or biographies, but not always. A best-seller one year was a children’s picture book about tractors. While it was no Harry Potter or Charlotte’s Web, sales were high enough that the author probably got busy on a sequel.
Maybe on backhoes.
On Christmas Eve, Icelanders spend the evening reading. Parents read to children. Adults read to partners, to themselves…or to their dogs, who hang on every word. I’d like to say they read to their cats, but that would be pointless. Cats wait impatiently for their subjects to shut up so they can get back to a catnap.
I like to imagine all this festive reading occurs in a cozy cabin with snow on the rooftop, a roaring fire in the fireplace and a glass of wine or a steaming mug of real cocoa—with marshmallows. If you’re going to do warm and fuzzy, do it right. Add marshmallows!
So, this Christmas, I’ll do something different. Forget the cookies, caroling and comfy socks. Hand me a good book with a leather cover (not about tractors, please) and pass the pinot noir.
Susan DeLay is from the Buckeye State where she took her first paying job at the age of 15, writing a newspaper column called Teen Talk. She lived in the Chicagoland area for 20-some years before giving away her shovel and ice scraper and moving to The Villages.
An industry veteran in publishing services, PR, and media relations, Susan wrote “DeLayed Reaction,” a newspaper column, for 25 years. The column is now a blog at www.susandelay.wordpress.com.
She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Florida Writers Association, Pen, Paper & Pals, The Writers League of the Villages, and Working Writers Critique Group. She is currently learning that poems don’t have to rhyme and is working on a novel entitled “Saving Jesus.”