I was reading over the holidays about a Christmas tradition in Iceland and though we have packed away our decorations and memories for another year, I couldn’t help be fascinated and envious of Iceland’s idea. It is called Jolabokaflod, which means, to you and I, “Christmas book flood” or the exchange of books on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic people settle in on the night before Christmas, under a warm blanket, in their favourite chair by the fire and open their gift of a book and read the night away. I can’t imagine anything more delicious to all the senses.
I was rather hoping this tradition went back centuries to perhaps the first settlement in Iceland in 874 A.D., but I suppose the Vikings were busy doing other things than reading and exchanging books. The tradition, as it turns out, reaches back to the Second World War when most supplies and goods were rationed, but paper and paper products were not. For its small population, Iceland’s publishers “flood” the market with books in late November to provide for the exchange of books at Christmas. Once the idea was implemented at a time of restriction in 1944, it was followed faithfully thereafter.
Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation and e-books aren’t even in the game. According to a study reported in the Guardian in 2016, Finland is ranked as the world’s most literate nation, a study that looked at “literate behavior characteristics”. Canada didn’t break the top ten in this study. Norway was named second most literate with Iceland following in third place. Reykjavik is a UNESCO site as a City of Literature. That is definitely a noble honour and has a lovely ring to it.
In these days of the desire to reduce our reliance on plastics, I think the book is a perfect gift no matter the reason. There are an abundance of used book stores in Nova Scotia. Some look like a truck backed up to the door and dumped its load just inside the door of the shop, which seems a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, while others are in precise order and catalogued much like a library. Their products are mostly donated so the cost of inventory is quite low and I like the idea of books having a second, third and many more lives than with the original purchaser.
I am a library user. Writers make significant income from their books being borrowed from the library. When I find a book in the library that I connect with in a profound way I can’t help but find it after and buy it. It sits on the shelf like a friend that I can turn to and open and find myself on its pages.
Newspapers are a bit like books to me. We can get our information online with relative ease, but there is something very satisfying and soothing about sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a print newspaper, turning the pages and reading the information that matters to us. In a world of instant everything, where we demand delivery of goods within seconds of wanting it, where we share our opinions with one tap, books and newspapers slow us down, bring us back to the moment, settle our breathing and activity and restore us. Iceland has the right idea.