Tome for the Holidays

Book lovers, meet the Jolabokaflod

Published December 16, 2023

Do you or someone you know have a book fetish?

If the answer is yes – and you’re here, after all – the book lover in question falls into one of two book-related conditions: 

  • Bibliomania, the intentional collecting of books with a passionate goal of owning lots of books.
  • Tsundoku, the accidental collection of books you mean to read, but that pile up when you don’t get to them. 

If you “suffer” from either literary condition, one remedy is to take part in the Icelandic tradition of “Jolabokaflod” – literally, “Christmas book flood.” That’s the tradition of giving and receiving new books on Christmas Eve, which people get to enjoy right away while cozying up with loved ones by the fire and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa. It’s such a hot concept, the word even made the English-language this year! (alongside nepo baby, greenwashing, and mountweazel).

The Jolabokaflod tradition began during World War II, when many imported products were not available, but paper products were. As a result, books emerged as the best option for Christmas presents. Every year since, in the lead-up to the holidays, Icelandic publishers release the much anticipated “Bókatíðindi,” or “Journal of Books,” from which people can choose gift books.

But Icelanders don’t just love to read during the holidays—this country of 330,000 may be a small book market, but it’s an ardent one. Half of Iceland’s population reads at least eight books a year, and 93 percent of the population reads at least one. Meanwhile in America, just 72 percent cop to having read a book in the past year. During the holidays, 34 percent of Americans choose to gift books, whereas only 20 percent want to get them as a gift. (Presumably, those 14-percent gap people are making Michael Scott faces on Christmas morning.) 

Whatever book habit you align with, a love of books and reading is a good thing – and there may be something to buying (and buying, and buying) books to read later in the future. Psychologist Karen Anne Hope Andrews told Gulf News that people are attracted to the knowledge contained within books, and a collection of unread books is more exciting than a collection that has been read: “Having a ready-made library of unread books on hand, when and if you do decide to read something, gives us a lot of pleasure.”

Some parting statistics:

  • In 2022, 52.9 percent of books sold in the U.S. were fiction, led by fantasy, romance, history, and sci-fi.
  • The U.S. has one bookstore for every 54,299 people.
  • The states with the highest “reading interest” rates are Vermont, Maine, Wyoming, and New Hampshire (we see you, northeast); the lowest are South Carolina, Hawaii, North Carolina, and last-place Florida (we see you, southeast)