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Do you plan on celebrating Jolabokaflod? Iceland’s “Christmas book flood” is the tradition of reading book gifts and drinking hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Here, you’ll find the perfect ideas for what to gift and read this December 24 to make Christmas extra magical. Let’s combine the joy of giving with the love of reading!

woman reading a book and drinking hot chocolate.
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What is Jolabokaflod?

snowy landscape of a town in Iceland at Christmastime.

about

Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition that translates into English as “the Christmas book flood.” It began in World War II, as paper was not rationed in this book-loving country. Icelanders give book gifts to each other on Christmas Eve and celebrate the holidays by reading them with a glass of hot chocolate.

What to Read for Jolabokaflod

woman reading a book and drinking hot chocolate in front of a christmas tree.
Here I’ve captured my participation in Jolabokaflod last Christmas Eve.

If you plan on partaking in Jolabokaflod festivities this year but can’t decide what to gift, request, or choose to read on this bookish holiday, here are some great ideas to get your juices flowing:

  • your favorite Christmas book
  • a Christmas short story or novella
  • a children’s Christmas book
  • a book about Christmas traditions
  • a Christmas mystery
  • a Christmas romance
  • a book about New Year’s Eve/Day
  • a motivational book for the new year
  • a book you’ve been meaning to read
  • a book about chocolate

Below I explore these ideas for what to read on Jolabokaflod in more detail and share my top recommendation for each prompt.

Your Favorite Christmas Book

So much of the fun of Christmas involves the annual indulgence in your all-time favorite festive media, from songs to movies and, of course, books! So, saving your annual re-read of your favorite Christmas book for Christmas Eve is a great idea when you’re celebrating Jolabokaflod.

I recommend my own favorite Christmas book, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, a beautifully illustrated children’s story of a boy who travels to the North Pole to learn the power of believing in the spirit of Christmas. Between the nostalgic story and the stunning imagery, it’s an immersive holiday experience.


A Christmas Short Story or Novella

Let’s be honest: Christmas Eve is a busy day for many, if not most, of us. Jolabokaflod is by no means the only Christmas tradition in which to partake. And, then there’s also those pesky last-minute tasks.

For these reasons, a Christmas short story is another great way to read on Christmas without a major time commitment.

Here, my top pick is A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It’s a holiday masterpiece that exquisitely blends Christmas nostalgia with the mix of joy and sadness that Christmas can bring. It tears your heart apart and puts it back together again, in a very literary way.


A Children’s Christmas Book

Many people already have the Christmas Eve tradition of reading with children, so why not combine that with Jolabokaflod?! And, what better book to recommend here than the popular classic, Twas the Night Before Christmas?! The title says it all.


A Book About Christmas Traditions

Since Jolabokaflod is in itself a Christmas tradition, another good idea for what to read on Christmas Eve is a book about Christmas traditions.

In John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, a festive couple decide to abandon their long-standing Christmas traditions, only to be persuaded otherwise by their neighbors and family.

This brief, fun read was also adapted to the film Christmas With the Kranks, so you can read AND watch if you choose!


A Christmas Mystery

By Christmas Eve, some people are burned out by all the light and festive holiday hoopla. If that’s you, then a dark Christmas mystery may be the way to celebrate Jolabokaflod with a bit of a different mood.

Author Peter Swanson said he envisioned the reader indulging in his holiday thriller, The Christmas Guest, with a warm beverage late on Christmas Eve, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s short, unputdownable, festive, and eerie — all at the same time.


A Christmas Romance

Christmas romance novels are the most popular adult book genre each December, so many readers will be trying to squeeze in every last one they can before Christmas is over.

If this is you, there is no shortage of books from which to choose, but I always love to recommend One Day in December by Josie Silver each year. It’s a massively bestselling Reese’s book club pick that almost universally satisfies readers. The good news here is that, while it’s a longer novel, it’s not too festive, so you can continue to finish it over the last week of December.


A Book About New Year’s Eve/Day

For those who like to look ahead to the future, Jolabokaflod is a great time to start a book about the New Year. There’s really such a short window for prime reading time about this holiday, and there are many great books on theme.

I always like to recommend Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney for this purpose, as it takes place only on New Year’s Eve. In this historical fiction narrative, an 85-year-old woman walks around New York City in 1984 and reminisces on her life. It sets the mood exactly right.


A Motivational Book for the New Year

If nonfiction is more your vibe, then why not partake in Jolabokaflod by preparing to tackle your New Year’s resolutions with a motivational self-help book?! It’s right around the corner, and there is no better time to get a jump start on setting yourself up for success.

Here, Atomic Habits by James Clear is the easiest book to recommend because it’s so massively popular (having sold a whopping ten million copies) and its easy-to-follow principles can apply to just about any New Year’s resolution, including a new reading habit!


A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read

The end of the year is a time when we are all trying to cram in all the things we meant to do, and that includes the books we meant to read but didn’t. As such, Jolabokaflod makes for a good time to get started on reaching this reading goal, whether or not you finish it by the New Year!

This prompt is totally subjective, so I will share my own personal pick: The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. This Oprah’s book club pick was really popular this year, but it’s also very long, so it was hard for me to get to.

I plan on starting on Jolabokaflod with ten pages a day, so I can read some other seasonal books at the same time.


A Book About Chocolate

Lastly, the Jolabokaflod tradition is an idea for a Christmas theme that involves not just reading books on Christmas Eve, but also drinking hot chocolate at the same time. There’s nothing I love more than a bookish lifestyle pairing, so I recommend you consider reading a book about chocolate as you sip.

Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind for a few reasons, including the fact that you can read it in one sitting. It would also be fun to pair it with the new Wonka movie this holiday season.

Conclusion

Iceland’s Jolabokaflod (the “Christmas book flood”) is a great way for any reader in any country to combine the joy of giving with the love of reading this Christmas Eve, simply by pairing the reading of book gifts with the drinking of hot chocolate.

To make it extra meaningful, consider ideas like re-reading your favorite Christmas book or reading a children’s Christmas book like the very timely classic, Twas the Night Before Christmas. Or, get a head start on your New Year’s reading.

Here’s hoping your Christmas Eve is completely flooded with books!

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One Comment

  1. Love this idea! I’m going to review my TBR lists to find something I’ve been wanting to read but just not made the time.