Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

Founding story

book-tree-2How Jólabókaflóð became

The retail cycle each year, from the launch of new books to the reading of these books at Christmas, is known as Jólabókaflóðwhich translates roughly into English as ‘Christmas book flood’.

This tradition began during World War II once Iceland had gained its independence for Denmark in 1944. Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war, so Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were short supply. This increase in giving books as presents reinforced Iceland’s culture as a nation of bookaholics – a study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013 found that half the country’s population read at least eight books a year.

Every year since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.

During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.

How the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign became

In October 2015, Christopher Norris – a senior executive-level media, publishing and social entrepreneur – was invited by BookMachine to write a regular blog posting for members of this international publishing community to read, having written a well-received piece about the future of publishing: ‘Publishing 2020: an Advent calendar of change‘. As he researched topics to write about, he read an in-depth review in The Bookseller about the book trade in Iceland, ‘In depth: Iceland’s book market‘, and came across Jólabókaflóð for the first time.

As Christopher was a pioneer of World Book Day in the UK, serving on the steering committee for the inaugural event in 1996-7, he realised that the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð offered a fabulous opportunity to promote book buying and reading within the same initiative, so the seeds of the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign were planted.

Urged on by the BookMachine executive, Christopher launched Jolabokaflod Book Campaign at an RSA Bounce event in London for entrepreneurs in November 2015.

In December 2015, on a business trip to New York, Christopher met with Hlynur Guðjónsson, Consul General and Trade Commissioner at the Consulate General of Iceland in New York, to share the vision of spreading the custom and practice of Jólabókaflóð to the UK and beyond. Mr Guðjónsson gave the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign his endorsement and facilitated contact with Icelandic organisations of potential mutual interest, including embassies and book trade bodies such as the Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature and the Icelandic Literature Center, both players in annual ‘Christmas book flood’.

At Christmas 2015, the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign encouraged people all over the world to experience the joy of giving books as gifts and reading them over the festive period in a series of published articles and blog postings.

Between March and October 2016, the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign launched its first crowdfunding project at CrowdPatch – called The Icelanders Cometh – which built on the strong connection with Icelandic literature by seeking funds for UK libraries to spend on books published in English by Icelandic authors. The project raised £2365.00, 103% of its target figure.

In November 2016, two concurrent publicity campaigns were launched: one to introduce the spirit of Jólabókaflóð to the UK and beyond, to encourage people everywhere to make the Icelandic tradition part of the way they celebrate Christmas; and the other to promote a UK version of the Book Bulletin, to capture book recommendations to share with people seeking to buy Christmas gifts for their friends and families.

The active Jolabokaflod Book Campaign account at Pinterest captures the spirit of how the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð is evolving into a global phenomenon.