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Forget Chinese Food: Our New Christmas Tradition Should Be Jolabokaflod

Iceland’s got the perfect holiday tradition for Jews

Liel Leibovitz
December 18, 2017

It’s almost Christmas, which means that American Jews from Scarsdale to Seattle are preparing for our beloved yuletide tradition of scampering off to the movies and gorging on Egg Foo Youngs. Put down those chopsticks: There’s a much better tradition we should embrace right now.

It’s called Jolabokaflod, and, as you might’ve guessed, it comes to us from Iceland. And because 93 percent of Icelanders read at least one book a year—as opposed to, I don’t know, three percent of Americans—this holiday tradition, which literally means “Yule book flood,” is charmingly literary. It’s simple: Instead of rushing to the multiplex to see The Last Jedi, you buy your loved ones books, and on Christmas Day you all cuddle up and read something wonderful.

The tradition dates back to World War II, when shortages in just about everything meant the only thing Icelanders could give each other were books, because the restrictions on imported papers weren’t quite as strict. To prepare for the holiday, the Iceland Publishers Association releases the Bokatidindi, a catalogue of all new books, which is distributed freely to every home in Iceland and is read as avidly as Us Weekly is stateside. Then, instead of Fingerlings or Hatchimals, Icelanders buy novels and poetry collections and works of non-fiction, which they then discuss on television shows (!) dedicated solely to books (!!) which almost everyone in the country watches (!!!).

As the People of the Book, it’s up to us to bring this tradition to America. We have exactly one week. We don’t have a Bokatidindi, but we have Adam Kirsch’s reviews, and the Jewish Book Council, and plenty of other resources to help us find stellar stuff to read. Hanukkah is almost over; it’s time to prepare for Jolabokaflod.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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