A Flood
Upon a Midnight Clear

At the edge of the Arctic Circle, there is a custom around this time that may be well worth sharing in the sunny south.

When we think of the classical literary tradition, our minds generally go to Italy or Greece—Iceland, not so much. Nonetheless, this island country has one of the strongest literary traditions (and one of the highest literacy rates) in Europe, rooted in the Norse sagas of more than a thousand years ago.

In 1944, there was severe rationing of all supplies all over the globe, imposed by the war effort. Despite being officially neutral and tucked away on the fringes of Europe, Iceland was no exception; importing most resources from abroad was difficult. One thing that was much easier to get, however, was paper, and that winter, books became an especially popular Christmas gift. This habit not only stuck, but developed into a full-blown tradition: Jólabókaflóðið* or “Yule-book-flood.” On Christmas Eve, Icelanders settle in with a book or two (or more!) and drink hot chocolate and read, well into the night.

Margr lækr smár gjörir stórar ár.
Little streams make big rivers.

The Classic Learning Test is all about great books, and our Author Bank abounds in works set at Christmastime, or touching on related themes. Here are some perfect ideas for anyone thinking of instituting Jólabókaflóðið in their households this year:

Virgil, Eclogue IV
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend
The “Pearl” Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
John Donne, Holy Sonnets
The Brothers Grimm, The Elves and the Shoemaker
Hans Christian Andersen, The Girl Who Stepped on Bread
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
Charles Williams, He Came Down From Heaven
C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

*Pronounced yo-la-bo-ka-flo-thith, with th as in “this” both times.


If you liked this piece, you might also like our ongoing seminar series, Journey Through the Author Bank.

Published on 8th December, 2022. Page image of aurora borealis over the village of Vík í Mýrdal on the southern coast of Iceland (source).

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