Icelanders have many odd Christmas traditions. We have 13 Yule trolls that used to terrorize children before Christmas but now give children small gifts. Their parents used to devour children who behaved outside of accepted societal norms, and of course, a giant Christmas cat would also eat children who did not finish making their clothes before Yule. Everybody says Christmas is the festival of children. In old Iceland, it was not the case judging by those ancient legends. But one Icelandic Christmas tradition that children and adults enjoy is the annual Christmas book flood. In Icelandic, this is known as the Jólabókaflóðið.

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The Icelandic Christmas Cat
The Icelandic Christmas Cat was a furry cannibal.

The best way of making a living out of writing and publishing books

The Icelandic  Christmas book flood is where a large majority of some 1,000 book titles published annually in Iceland are posted a few weeks before Christmas. Publishers and authors vie for attention, so their books will be included in gifts. It is their best chance to get a decent return on the massive investment in writing and publishing a quality book in a small market like Iceland.

Yule lad stealing delicious skyr from hungry children.
Yule lad stealing delicious skyr from hungry children.

Starting from scarcity, surviving abundance

The origins of the Icelandic Christmas book flood are from the end of World War II. At that time, there were shortages of many goods. Since there was no difficulty in sourcing the book material books became the gift of choice in Iceland. Nothing much else was available. Now there is a glut of stuff to give, but books are still a popular gift.

Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir poses at Grótta.
Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir poses at Grótta.

I am hooked on the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood

I love this time of year and watch closely what books are being released. The annual journal that is published at the beginning of the “jólabókaflóðið” with all available books is studied carefully. I have already started on one of the books published in the “flood,” and I always gift myself a few books so I have something good to read over Yule.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir signing at a book festival in France.
Lilja Sigurðardóttir signing at a book festival in France.

I am blown away by the quality and the variety of books published for this small market. For example, I am reading this eclectic book inspired by the history of Iceland’s oldest prison. This is the current Prime Minister’s Office. Without the Christmas Book Flood, I would never have known the full extent of its dark story. Quite frankly, the history of this building is so terrible that I have thought to myself that the building should be torn down.

Alternative history for Christmas, yes please!

Sitting down with a new and exciting new book, fresh coffee, and chocolate on the 25th of December is divine. However, that since I am trying to minimize clutter in my house, I usually buy e-books and read them on my iPad. My choice for a book on Christmas day will be an alternative history book by author and historian Valur Gunnarsson. I enjoyed his alternative history book, The Eagle and the Falcon, which explored how a German occupation of Iceland in World War II would have played out. Unfortunately, that book has not been translated into English but I will be sure to let you know when that happens.

Authors Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir dominate the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood

Some authors have dominated the sales list for the past years over Christmas. Most notably, these are Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Arnaldur Indriðason. They both write pretty dark Nordic noir crime stories. Yrsa also sometimes explores the supernatural in her books; when she does that, her books are terrifying. Both authors have had their books translated into English so non-Icelandic speakers can curl up with those thrillers. I would also like to recommend Lilja Sigurðardóttir, and Ragnar Jónasson who write great thrillers.

Enjoy the Icelandic Book Flood!