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.
People have chosen the end of the year as a special time for honoring, celebrating and giving, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. For thousands of years, people have revered this time of year for a variety of reasons and with distinctive flairs in every culture. Celebration and ceremony continues today all over the world from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to more specialized solstice happenings, such as Dong Zhi in China, Shab-e Yalda in Iran, and Shalako in the American Southwest.
Over the years, countless traditions have become part of the celebrations, too. It’s these traditions that give holiday celebrations their personality, whether they are simply ornamental fun or symbols of deeper meaning. Here are a few from our more common holidays.
One day during the Christmas season in Germany in the early 1600s, someone chopped down a pine tree, brought it inside, and decorated it. People apparently loved the idea, and the tradition caught on, though it was slow to take hold in the United States because it was seen as a pagan relic. Today, the Christmas tree is probably one of the most notable symbols of the Christmas season. Now people strap them to car roofs and rush them home, and it’s where everyone goes to give and receive presents.
For a several-week time span in the late fall in Iceland, publishers release a lot of books, and people buy them at a furious pace. It’s called the Christmas Book Flood, and Icelanders crowd the local bookstores seeking to extend their personal libraries. This massive book drive is also closely related to the tradition of giving books to one another on Christmas Eve. Icelanders then spend the evening reading while waiting for old St. Nick.
It would not be right to overlook the great Yule tradition of donning Christmas sweaters in holiday competition to determine who has the most obnoxious outfit. This American tradition has quite a following as a cultural trend, though it lacks the venerable pedigree of the Christmas tree or caroling. To take part, all one needs are like-minded people and a red or green sweater excessively embroidered with Christmas symbols.
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights, and lasts for eight days. It honors the reclaiming of a Jewish temple from the Greeks about 2200 years ago. After reclaiming the temple, the people sought to light a menorah. They discovered, however, that only about one day’s worth of oil was at hand. But to everyone’s amazement, they got eight days of oil from the lamp. Since then, people who celebrate Hanukkah keep a menorah, a special candleholder, and light it each night of Hanukkah. On day one, they light one candle; on day two, they light two candles; they continue until the eighth night when all eight candles blaze.
Because of the significance of oil in the temple lamp, cooking foods in oil is an important tradition at Hanukkah. Tables overflow with fried indulgence, such as potato latkes and jelly donuts. Dairy foods are significant as well in honor of Judith, so cheesecake and blintzes are not an unusual sight.
Jewish tradition included giving money, rather than presents, at Hanukkah. Today people can still expect to see some money during Hanukkah, but they also might see another kind of currency: chocolate gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in foil.
Relatively new to the end-of-year-celebrations, Kwanzaa sets it foundation in a desire to bring African Americans together in community. The holiday derived from a collection of traditional African harvest celebrations, and it involves storytelling, poetry, feasting and candle lighting. Kwanzaa candle lighting is similar to Hanukkah candle lighting. For Kwanzaa, people light seven candles, each corresponding to the seven principles (ideals to honor). As a candle is lit each night of Kwanzaa, people discuss one of the principles.
The sixth day of Kwanzaa brings the people together for feasting. This tradition begins with an artistic performance. Next, a ritual drinking ceremony takes place followed by a reading and drum performance. Then people eat. After the feast, the host or hostess provides a farewell speech.