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Bookish Holiday Traditions: From Iceland to Your Home

By Bianca Smith • December 18, 2017

Iceland has a holiday tradition that has us all renewing our passports to get there. It's Jólabókaflóð, the book flood of Christmas. It's a tradition that dates from World War II import restrictions. In such a tiny country most imports were rather expensive, but paper, and thus books, were more affordable. So books became common Christmas gifts. We're sure the publishing schedule helped too. Most books in Iceland are published between September and December annually—perfect timing for Christmas. On Christmas Eve night, Icelanders exchange books then spend the evening reading and eating chocolate. Heavenly.

Iceland is rather unique with such a bookish national tradition, but we put the call out and discovered how many of you have family bookish traditions.

From what you told us, most of you have a Christmas Eve bedtime tradition, whether it's reading The Night Before Christmas or the Bible. We love hearing of book advent calendars. One person even said they wrap books from their shelves and their children get to choose one each night leading to Christmas. It's cost-effective and keeps the favorites in circulation.

Ensuring a book is received each year endears us. We thought it sweet that one parent leaves a book at their children's bed so a book is the first gift they open. The traditions also spread to other holidays and times of year. Using a book as a family birthday card is sweet. We're sure that makes the recipient smile each time they read it in the future. And while Hanukkah isn't traditionally a gift-giving holiday, we appreciated those who do give books for the occasion.

And finally, many of you have non-holiday book traditions for the holidays. The Harry Potter series featured highly. One person amazingly fits a re-read into the week before Christmas. Another reads the illustrated versions (spoiler: Wormtail in the newest one is just too adorable for such a nasty wizard). The Lord of the Rings and Pollyanna series were also included.

Are you celebrating Jólabókaflóð or any other bookish holiday tradition? Here are some book recommendations to get you started. Let us know in the comments if you have others to add.

Books to Read for Jólabókaflóð or Christmas or Holidays

'Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house; Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

So many of you read these words (and the rest of the poem) every holiday season so we'd be remiss not to include it. But did you know it's actually titled A Visit from St. Nicolas? Clement claims to have written it for his children in 1822, and it was published the following year anonymously and several people have claimed credit for it. Either way, it's a delightful poem and a wintery favorite.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

Another holiday classic, teaching that Christmas is more than presents and things. A needed reminder for many of us Grinches. And a cute tale to ensure children always understand more about the holiday. Plus, who wants a heart that's two sizes too small?

Let It Snow by John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson

It's hard to find a holiday-themed YA novel that's not a soppy romance. Luckily we have this trio to write one for us. Let It Snow is three intersecting stories, by three authors in one book. Sound confusing? It isn't. The book follows three teenagers in Gracetown during a Christmas snowstorm. It's more adventure and coming of age than romance, even though each story is technically a romance.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

Dash was feeling rather despondent about the holidays when he stumbled upon Lily's notebook filled with dares. They start to trade dares and dreams via the notebook while they traverse New York, before finally meeting in person. It's a sweet holiday romance that'll have you scouring the shelves for your own red moleskin. Oh, and if you ever find it, we want the ISBN so we can put it on our shelves.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Oh, bah humbug! Do you have an Ebenezer Scrooge in your family? Perhaps reading A Christmas Carol aloud may help them rethink their choices. Many of you named it as a favorite for the season. We assume it's for the story of hope in Victorian England and not that you need reminding of consequences.

Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson

Each year, Jeanette Winterson writes a short story—just for her. Luckily for us, she shared them and added 12 Christmas recipes. There are stories of love, revenge, birth, and more. Jeanette adds in tidbits of her life and her love of Christmas. Along with 12 recipes, you can read this for the warm feeling of Christmas, then cook and fill your loved ones’ bellies.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

Not everyone celebrates the holidays, and even if you do, you may be so Christmased out that you don't want a holiday book. Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the true story of Pino Lella in Nazi Italy. After Pino's family home is destroyed, he joined an underground railway helping Jews escape across the Alps. Until his parents think it's safer for him to join the Germans. He then inadvertently becomes the driver for Hitler's right-hand man in Italy. It's a story of bravery, courage, sadness, and love. And it shows that decisions made during the war were rarely what they seemed.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

This is a book you probably shouldn't read if you're celebrating Jólabókaflóð with others. You'll have an irresistible urge to share what would happen if the moon disappeared, or how dangerous it is to be in a swimming pool during a thunderstorm, and interrupt their reading. Randall Munroe's book expands on his popular blog, and former career with NASA to answer the all-important questions in life.

Have you got your chocolate ready? It's going to be a long, and enjoyable night.

Read more by Bianca Smith

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