HOW ICELANDERS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS WITH SPECIAL TRADITION ?
Iceland is almost like nordic fairy tale, with its numerous volcanoes, lava fields, hot springs and awesome geysers. The land has unique landscape and almost an epic fantastic scenery. When I was child, I thought that Iceland is some kind of European New Zealand wonder. I wanted to go and stay there, to be lost among dramatic volcanic peaks and to be found by elves. However, I have never known for Christmas tradition in Iceland, that is one of the most authentic and it is called Jolabokaflod.
The Christmas as generous sharing time is the best time of the year all over but it seems that Icelanders found their own polar star of pure happiness and joy of celebrations. Their way of experiencing the Christmas Eve and welcoming Christmas spirit is with books and hot chocolate. Yes, that is the Jolabokaflod (Jólabókaflóðið -roughly, “flood of books”) . The country of one of the oldest democracies in the world is one of the safest and also one of the nation that is on the top of those that read book. According one research:“Icelanders read or listen to an average of 2.4 books a month, and almost one third of the population reads a book every day or more often.” The modern Viking people love books and they are proud of their culture, heritage and unique language that is still now very similar to the Old Norse that was spoken in the Viking age. For example, just to compare, there are about 100 words for wind. The language is not easy but it is original, melodic and dramatic, at the same time. It preaches about the amazing background of Icelandic history and doesn’t surprise that Icelanders like to call themselves more Nordic than Scandinavians.
The land of fire and ice is also the land of books, many books for a real happiness. The Icelanders know how to spread life vibes and appetite for great things so they give, receive and simply share the books. This tradition is mostly settled for Christmas Eve and it is created during World War II, while the books haven’t been so expensive then and available for gifts. So many years after, this is must for Christmas Eve and young and old generations have shaped the profile of Icelanders as bookaholics:“Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland. Ever since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has sent out a book bulletin to each household in the middle of November when the Reykjavik Book Fair happens. People use this catalogue to order books to give to their friends and family on Christmas Eve, the main gift-giving day in Iceland. After all the presents are open, everyone grabs a cup of hot chocolate and cozies up to spend the rest of the evening reading their books.”
This is very inviting practice that is getting popular in the rest of Europe, Usa and Australia. People love the idea of being relaxed at home, surrounded by family and inspired by new books. The spirit of sharing for Christmas in Iceland is actually to give and get new books and to drink hot cocoa, starting ti read your new book, together with the rest of the family. They usually sit around the fireplace and chill all together, while getting vacuumed in the exciting plot of the novel. Their Christmas feeling started on December 11th, when the first of Yule lands come down from the mountains and it will be ended on January, 6th. In the meantime, the people will exchange the books, eat and celebrate and make snow figures. Don’t forget that they have also 13 Santas and so called 13 Yule lands or mean Icelandic Troll Santa Clause. Each of those has a specific character and behaviour and according to the legend, their mother is Gryla that lives in the mountains with his husband, their father and the black cat. It is written that every Christmas Gryla comes down with their sons, searching for naughty kids to boil them alive. This is pretty much hard fairy tale but it helps a lot to the parents to keep their children well behaved and not afraid to be eaten by Christmas black cat.
There are many other interesting colours of Icelandic tradition for a Christmas. I was surprised that they decorate the graveyards for this time of the year.It is almost like a reminder that the line between death and life is tiny and that those who passed away are really not so far away and that the Christmas light is warming them too.
Nevertheless, if you are not sure which Christmas tradition would you like to adopt this year, try with Jolabokaflod. The books are precious gifts and wont disappoint, especially now when everything seems so fake and wrong. You can make your own Iceland night and pretend that Viking strength is overwhelming your home and give you courage for new challenges. All you need is to organise some really high quality hot chocolate or simply to experiment with Heston Blumental´s iced chocolate wine, that might sound strange but it is the exclusive recipe from 18th century. The idea could be found here: https://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/heston-blumenthals-iced-chocolate-wine . Beside it, the next suggestion is Spiced chocolate martini : https://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/spiced-chocolate-martini . The both could be shared on the Christmas Eve, when you are amazed by your newest page turner. You know what they say, for a real joy, you will need a book and chocolate or both.
Iceland is on my Bucket list. Not just because they are the land of Vikings, natural wonders or books but because they combine all with the purpose to stay who they are, in this crazy, cold and lying world. They didn’t give up to protect their culture, heritage and habits in spite of so many attacks on all what is authentic and not mass production. They still know how to embrace the ancient joy of fireplace, hunting tales and hoping for a light, after long cold winter.
2 thoughts on “CHRISTMAS IN ICELAND: JOLABOKAFLOD”
Sarah’s seasonal and informative article reminded me of the tension in Iceland in the late-1940s, due to the US-military presence there…
Officially, Jólabókaflóðið (i.e. Yuletide Book Flood) commenced in 1944, as importation of paper commodities had not been restricted like most other foreign trade goods, due to World War II. The presence of the British and US-military contingencies in Iceland guaranteed local employment and disposable income for purchasing gifts for the Christ Mass.
However, this economic stability came at a definitive cost of Icelandic politic autonomy: the British military invaded Iceland in 1940, due to concerns over German military expansion in the Nordic states. Yet, the Icelandic government wanted to remain neutral and objected to the British invasion: the US-military invaded in July of 1941, before the US-government had entered World War II.
The US-government refused to respect Icelandic sovereignty and created military bases in Iceland, in preparation for The Cold War. This resulted in the anti-NATO protests across the country in march of 1949. The majority of Icelanders did not want to join NATO and wished to remain neutral in The Cold War; to trade with both Soviet and Occidental states, openly and freely. This was the first time Icelandic police used violence against Icelandic civilians, who were protesting in a non-violent manner, until CIA agents caused anarchy among the protests.
The spirit of Jólabókaflóðið was affected by the ill-feeling towards US-military hegemony…
Hope all is well with you. Good to see u are still writing.