The Icelandic Christmas tradition of giving books as gifts

It is customary in Iceland to give books as gifts on Christmas Eve. This tradition should come as no surprise to foreigners as Iceland disposes of a tremendous cultural heritage with respect to literature. So it is that from the Viking Age and High Middle Ages (periods of time throughout which the Icelandic sagas and the Skaldic poems were written) up to contemporary times, books represent an inherent part of the culture of this Nordic country.

‘Jólabókaflóðið’ (Icelandic for ‘Christmas book flood’) is a marketing concept of purchasing books from September to December so as to prepare for Christmas giving. ‘Bókatíðindi’, which is a free news catalogue on freshly published books, is distributed to all Icelandic households. Then, the choice to purchase a novel is up to the prospective reader.

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After receiving the gifts on Christmas Eve, the Icelanders spend the remainder of the night reading their newly acquired manuscripts, alongside some chocolate, which definitely makes for a great state of wintertime coziness.

It is equally important to mention the fact that this volcanic isle located in the North Atlantic Ocean, with a population of roughly 330,000 people (who are of Gaelic-Norse origin, as genetic studies prove), has an exquisite literary potential. It is in Iceland that most books are read and published per capita than anywhere else globally and that one in 10 people is likely to publish at some point in their life.

One should also take in account the 1955 Nobel laureate in literature Halldór Kiljan Laxness, the only Icelandic to have received the distinction thus far. According to the Swedish Academy, he was awarded the Nobel in literature ‘for his vivid epic power, which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland’.

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