I have something of a love / hate relationship with Christmas traditions. My inner cool Mum wants to embrace them all – from dreaming up elaborate antics for a watchful Elf on the Shelf, to lovingly preparing a Christmas Eve box full of festive treats for the whole family to enjoy together while we track Santa’s progress online from the North Pole.
But there’s something about this current trend for adopting ever more family traditions at Christmas that leaves me breathless, and not in a good way.
Isn’t there enough to do, in between writing Christmas cards and decorating the house to a Pinterest level of perfect, not to mention liaising with Santa and planning a Christmas feast worthy of Nigella herself? Haven’t we already got our hands full simply trying to pull off Christmas, without adding more rituals and rites of passage which, if we don’t adhere to, somehow conspire to make us feel like festive failures?
I’m definitely suffering from a touch of festive fatigue, and just can’t bring myself to get excited about any more Christmas traditions. But then I read about Jolabokaflod. If you haven’t heard of it before now, you soon will. It’s set to take over from Hygge as our next Nordic obsession.
Roughly translated, Jolabokaflod means ‘Christmas Book Flood’ and references the fact that Iceland has more books published per capita than any other country in the world. September to November are the most popular months of the year for book sales in Iceland, and every household receives a book catalogue during this period, from which people choose books to give as gifts to friends and family. On Christmas Eve, the books are exchanged and everyone hunkers down for a night of reading and eating chocolate. I told you this is one tradition you’d want to adopt as your own.
“Roughly translated, Jolabokaflod means ‘Christmas Book Flood’ and references the fact that Iceland has more books published per capita than any other country in the world.”
Having fallen in love with Jolabokaflod, I am determined to make it my own this Christmas. And, in the process, I’m going to scale right back on all the other stuff that I always feel I’m supposed to do to make Christmas Eve special.
Why? Because giving each of my children a book on Christmas Eve might not be up there with the glitz and glamour of making a gingerbread house from scratch or giving them a new pair of pyjamas and a box stuffed full of schmaltzy, sugary treats, but it *is* a simple soulful act that I think they’ll remember.
What gets in my grill about so many of the other traditions that I feel forced into adopting during the festive season is that they’re all really, in the end, about buying yet more stuff. And we get tricked into believing, at this time of year more than ever, that money can buy happiness. We know it can’t, deep down, but the hope that it can compels us to buy all sorts of stuff which, if we’re honest, our kids probably won’t even remember getting a year from now.
I’m speaking to myself because I’m guilty of this. I keep stockpiling presents out of a fear that whatever my kids wake up to under the tree on Christmas Day just somehow won’t be enough. In fact, they’ll be so excited and overwhelmed that they’ll neither know nor care whether Santa has stretched to every item on their list this year.
The gift that most lit up my middle child’s face one Christmas morning? A gift-wrapped box of Cheerios. Having run out of ideas whilst writing his letter to Santa over breakfast one day in December, he resorted to asking for a lifetime supply of his favourite cereal. Santa responded in kind, with a note explaining that there wouldn’t have been room in the sleigh for much else if he’d brought a lifetime’s supply, so a giant box was the best he could do.
It was a funny, touching moment that we talk about often and which led to other cereal-related requests appearing on the annual Christmas wish list. But it also taught me that kids aren’t stupid when it comes to consumerism. They know a thoughtful gift doesn’t have to cost much, and they’re most moved by gifts that make them feel the most loved, not the ones which cost the most money.
And that’s the beauty of Jolabokaflod – it’s an inexpensive way of creating a magical, memorable evening that the whole family can enjoy. I can think of few things I’d love more than cosying in on Christmas Eve, fire lit and tree lights twinkling, to read books and eat chocolate in quiet togetherness.
So, this year, you can keep your Christmas Eve box and even the festive family film. Instead, my clan will be cuddling up together to lose ourselves in the simple wonder of a good book, carefully chosen with the recipient in mind.
I can’t wait. Care to join us?
Heidi Scrimgeour, Journalist and Editor