Join The Happy Hollisters and Learn Some Icelandic Yule Traditions!
For a country with a population of just under 350,000, Iceland has a lot going on! This Nordic island is known for its breathtaking (and very volcanically active) landscapes, its short winter days with only a few hours of sunlight, its status as one of the happiest countries in the world—and, of course, for providing an unusual setting for an exciting adventure in The Happy Hollisters and the Midnight Trolls by Jerry West.
In this book, which is the final installment in The Happy Hollister series, Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue travel to “Iceyland,” as little Sue calls it, to solve a mystery involving some mischievous trolls. Along the way, they learn about Icelandic culture and myths. They visit in the summer, though, which means that they miss out on learning about Christmas in Iceland. Luckily, it’s never too late to learn! Join the Hollisters and learn more about two of Icelandic Yule traditions.
One of these Icelandic Christmas traditions is called jólabókaflóð, or book flood. It makes sense that Iceland celebrates with books: it’s one of the most literate countries in the world, and 93% of Icelanders read at least one book per year. The book flood tradition harkens back to World War II, when paper was one of the only products in Iceland that was cheap and readily available. This meant that at Christmastime, books were one of the few gifts that people could give to each other. This coincided with the fact that Icelandic publishers traditionally release most of their books at the end of the year, “flooding” the market with new titles around Christmas, and jólabókaflóð was born!
Jólabókaflóð usually takes place on Christmas Eve, when people gift books to their families and loved ones. They all then spend the evening reading their new books, a lovely way to relax before the Christmas festivities the next day. To promote literacy and the book flood, the Icelandic Publishers Association sends out a catalogue of all recently released books to every home in Iceland, ensuring that they can pick the perfect books to give as gifts. Just as it was during the first years of the book flood during World War II, Christmas is still the time when most books are published and sold in Iceland, and jólabókaflóð is something that readers and publishers alike look forward to each year.
Iceland’s other holiday tradition also revolves around gift-giving, though it’s not quite as cheerful as the book flood! According to Icelandic traditions, anyone who doesn’t receive clothes for Christmas will be paid a visit by the jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat. In Iceland, receiving clothes as a Christmas gift is seen as a reward for good behavior throughout the year, and children who behave and finish their chores before Christmas get clothes as a gift. For kids who don’t “earn” their Christmas clothes, the punishment is said to be something worse than coal in their stockings. Naughty children get a visit from the Yule Cat, a massive creature who peers through their window on Christmas Eve to see if they received new clothes. No new clothes means that the child has misbehaved, and the Yule Cat will eat the child’s dinner—or in some stories, the child itself. Yikes!
The Yule Cat myth not only encourages good behavior, but it also promotes a culture of generosity and giving around Christmas. In Iceland, people often donate used clothing to the less-fortunate to help them ward off the Yule Cat and more importantly, keep them warm throughout the long, dark winter.
With unique traditions like the book flood and the Yule Cat, Christmas in Iceland is a joyous time. If you agree that books make great gifts and want to celebrate Christmas like an Icelander this year, The Happy Hollisters can help! We have plenty in stock to help you launch your own book flood—and we even have t-shirts to help you fend off the Yule Cat!
By Libby Svenson Kennedy
Research notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust