When children create Christmas lists in September and October, how many books make their way on those lists?
If the student is an avid reader, probably quite a few. Otherwise, most parents would be hard pressed to find one sample of literature found wrapped under a tree on December 24th. However, that is not the story in all parts of the world. The small island of Iceland has made a tradition of giving books over the holidays. In fact, it is such a popular event they have a name for it: jólabókaflóð.
Jólabókaflóð translated into English is “Christmas book flood.” Iceland did not gain its independence from Denmark until World War II. When it did, there was not much to do. With the world deep into war, most resources were limited.
Paper was one of the few resources to which Icelanders had ample access. Meaning products made of paper, like books, became a focus in Icelandic culture. Around September, lists of books begin to trickle out around the country, cumulating in the entire nation receiving the Bókatíðindi, “Book Bulletin” in English.
Until very recently, this massive book release was more necessity that treasure. The resources to publish all of these books did not exist until late in the year. Now the full bulletin is sent out in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. This is a list of every book published in the country at the time. And while you may think that there cannot be that many books published by 335K people, you would be surprised.
Reykjavik was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011. It is a designation they more than earned. A study in 2013 by Bifröst University showed that over fifty percent of Icelanders read at least eight books a year. Over 90% of the population reads at least one book a year.
There may be only 200,000 people in Reykjavik, but in 2009 they checked out over 1.2 million books. Iceland is a country that loves their books and loves to read. If they are not reading books, they are writing them; 50 percent of the people in the country will have a book they wrote published. Even with all of these writers, the number of books published is relatively small. In 2011, there were 350,000 books published in the United States; in Iceland there was 842. Put in terms of population, the rate Icelanders publish books is double what it is in the U.S.
Of course, this flood makes for a great night on Christmas Eve. On that day, everyone exchanges books and spends the rest of the evening reading with a drink to warm them up. The book you will receive as a gift will be a physical, hardbound book. The Icelanders cherish their books, so much so that e-readers are few and far between. Even the paperback, a staple of international book publishing, only became popular in the 21st century. When you give the gift of a book, it is a gift that is going to last.
Why not adopt a tradition like this into a classroom setting?
Host a white elephant where everyone brings a favorite book to share on the last day of school before winter break! This gives students a chance to give books they love away for other students to enjoy while freeing up some space on the bookshelf at home. After the exchange, spend some time in class either reading one of the books to the students or giving the students quiet time to read one of their new gifts. It is a fun way to end the first half of the year and associates the act of reading to a pleasurable experience.