In Iceland, it’s a tradition — if a relatively new one — to give books as gifts to be opened on Christmas Eve. The practice is called jólabókaflóð ("Christmas book flood," often anglicized as jolabokaflod) and apparently accounts for a huge chunk of sales in Iceland, where a 2013 study revealed that 50 per cent of the population reads at least eight books a year.
Every year since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue called the Book Bulletin in mid-November; every household in the country gets a copy so books can be ordered in time for Christmas.
It’s quite lovely to imagine a whole country simultaneously curling up and cracking the spine on a new book; in these imaginings, a fire is crackling, snow is falling, Björk is sprinkling pixie dust and there’s nothing competing for any of these happy readers’ attention.
Reykjavik, Iceland, where many Icelanders will enjoy reading over the holidays during the "Christmas book flood." (Dreamstime / TNS files)
Sadly, that rarely seems to be the case for most folks, either during the holidays or the rest of the year (though a recent BookNet survey showed Canadians spend about six hours a week reading a book).
The staggering amount of television I watch might seem to belie it, but I manage to squeeze in a fair bit of reading. However, I still have a long-standing Boxing Day tradition that entails a) pyjamas b) a giant candy cane dipped in Bailey’s (don’t knock it till you try it) and c) a great book.
Sometimes there’s cat-snuggling involved, sometimes he is being an aloof jerk, but no matter what, I’ll finish a novel by sundown.
This year I’ve already picked out local author Bob Armstrong’s young-adult western Prodigies as my Boxing Day read. Now I’ve just got to make sure there’s enough Bailey’s.
The Free Press publishes its own kind of Book Bulletin each year, highlighting our reviewers’ top picks in fiction and non-fiction, as well as a section on the best kids books of 2021; feel free to use these as guides to pick out your own jolabokaflod gifts (or a treat for yourself).
To that end, you can sign up for the Winnipeg Public Library’s Five-in-Five Book List: simply fill out a form with your genre preferences and within five days, a librarian will respond with a list of five books just for you— they’ll even put a hold on them. (My perfectly chosen quintet included works by Brit Bennett, Lindy West, Yaa Gyasi, Suleika Jaouad and Casey McQuiston.)
Finally, thanks to all the readers who weighed in with their favourite carols and guilty pleasures.
Barb D. shares my slightly shameful love of Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M, but she feels no guilt over what she calls “an out and out favourite”: Christmas Traveller by the Rovers, from their album It Was a Night Like This. (She is on to something: it is extremely jolly.)
Wayne F. writes, “The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album always makes me feel like I am 10 years old again. Such optimism and pure innocence! The one that always makes me laugh out loud: Elvis's Blue Christmas sung by Porky Pig!”
Ingrid B. loves Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano, while Ruth W. admits, “Tricia Yearwood's It Wasn't His Child gets me every time I hear it” and Wendy S.’s guilty pleasure is Eartha Kitt’s sultry version of Santa Baby.
Got some book recommendations or Boxing Day traditions you’d like to share? Email me at email@example.com.