My girlfriend and I have been living together for about a year and a half now. While this is not my first relationship, it’s my first (and hopefully only) experience cohabitating with a romantic partner. One of the unexpected aspects of this new lifestyle has been the establishment of traditions as we both meld our respective ones together and adopt new ones. This year, for instance, I have a Christmas tree for the first time ever.
Last year, we started observing a new tradition. We can’t claim credit for it; it’s a longstanding tradition out of Iceland known as the Jólabókaflóðið, or Christmas Book Flood. The custom has its roots in World War II, when import restrictions and low paper prices led to the country releasing all of its new books just once a year: during the week before Christmas. This has, predictably, led to books being a popular Christmas gift. The current iteration of the tradition has people exchanging books on Christmas Eve, and then spending the evening curled up with those new books.
Our respective families have numerous traditions and gatherings throughout the Christmas week, but Christmas Eve (thus far) has been left to us. Last year, we spent the evening observing Jólabókaflóðið (based on my research, this is pronounced yo-la-boak-a-fload). After dinner, we made a batch of hot buttered rum and settled in with our new books. I got her Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, a gothic mystery story, and she got me Philip Pullman’s retellings of Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. I made significantly more progress in mine than she did, mostly because I kept interrupting her to share with her how brilliantly Pullman had respun the classic tales. It was a lovely, cozy evening, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it again tonight.
I can’t say what I’ll be giving her for the Book Flood this year; she does read these, after all.
The Christmas season can be crazy; we both come from close-knit families, so there’s always a bunch of gatherings crammed into a relatively small time frame. Last year, we went to five different Christmases throughout the day. I don’t mean this to sound like a complaint; I love both or our families and always enjoy spending time with them, but amid the constant gatherings and traveling between the gatherings, the day tends to go by in a blur. It’s nice to have the contrast of the night before, which is slow and relaxed and quiet.
Of course, with the pandemic still raging on, things will look very different this year. Nonetheless, we’re still having our quiet night of reading on the 24th. At this point, it’s probably short notice to adapt your own traditions to include this, but if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, consider it for next year.
Happy holidays to you all! Enjoy the season, and here’s to a brighter new year!