A few years back my family adopted a new tradition inspired by the Icelandic Jólabókaflóðið. While this literary tradition—roughly translated as “Christmas book flood”—originated for a reason, my family adopted (and adapted) it for a different one: Will and I wanted to build in some purposeful quiet-at-home time amidst the dashing we did between various extended family celebrations in the past.
As you can imagine, giving books was obviously nothing new in our household, but the idea of turning it into an event was.
Here’s what we decided to do. Most years, we’re out of the house for most of Christmas Eve. But when we get home and are winding down we’ll light a fire and pass out one gift to everyone—a wrapped book and a special chocolate to go with it. After everyone opens their books, we get cozy and read by the fire while we sample our chocolate.
As a highly sensitive person, I sometimes feel like the Grinch complaining about the noise, noise, noise, noise of the holidays (both big family gatherings and the all-day excitement of kids off school). So our family book flood became a way to recruit my kids into willingly—and even excitedly—winding down Christmas Eve with a book, which is my preferred way to decompress.
Of course the challenge has been picking the books! We need a book for each person—that’s two adults, and four kids ages 10-17—and really want it to be something they’ll unwrap and immediately want to start reading, even though each of us likely already has a book-in-progress. Will and I put a lot of thought into choosing books for this night. We love to give books they’re already inclined to read and love, like a new book in a beloved series, or one by a favorite author. But sometimes we surprise our more adventurous readers with books I know they’ve never heard of. (I can’t be more specific because our kids haven’t opened their books yet!)
Will and I also buy for each other. I don’t envy him the task of choosing books for me, but he’s done a great job in the past. (In fact, one of my favorite books of 2020 was last year’s book flood pick!)
The chocolate is much easier to find, thank goodness. For our family book flood, I look for something special that we only buy for special occasions like this. In the past we’ve given them Vosges (a family favorite after we visited their now-shuttered store in NYC), Green & Black’s, and Divine. Theo, Equal Exchange or Chuao are also good choices. Because we share the chocolate, I don’t hesitate to get special or even downright weird flavors—turmeric ginger, potato chip, mushroom, you name it! (This year, thanks to The Great British Baking Show, all my ten-year-old wants is ruby chocolate!)
Will and I keep an eye out for chocolates (and sample along the way) whenever we’re at a coffee shop or speciality food store. World Market and stores like Just Creations and Ten Thousand Villages are also good for something off the beaten path. Even our regular grocery store stocks all kinds of indulgent treats in their organic and whole food section.
This year has us all approaching the holidays differently and my family is looking at new rhythms and traditions. Fortunately, our family book flood is also perfect for 2020.
Do you have any literary traditions, holiday or otherwise? Tell us all about them in comments!