Avid social media users know that soon, the annual wave of posts about Jólabókaflóð will start appearing on Facebook timelines, Instagram stories and Twitter feeds. If the above 11-letter Icelandic word looks mysterious to you (not to mention unpronounceable – for those curious, the phonetic pronunciation is yo-la-bok-a-flot), we are certain you have heard of it. You probably have seen a social media meme referring to its translated name: Yule Book Flood, a tradition of Icelandic Christmas.
For the uninitiated, the Yule Book Flood is an old tradition, but not as old as some Facebook posts would have you believe. Dating back to the 1940s and WWII, Jólabókaflóð originated because imports were rare and expensive to Iceland during the height of the war, but paper was plentiful and relatively easy to come by. And, since Iceland’s population is small, book publishing was always a seasonal (as opposed to year-round) phenomenon.
And so Icelanders started the tradition of exchanging books as gifts on Christmas Eve, and then dedicating Christmas Day to staying indoors, by a fire, under a blanket, to read them.
For Americans – tens of millions of whom will spend long stretches of this holiday season in planes, trains and automobiles traveling to see loved ones – this might be an appealing alternative to our typical flashy, expensive and labor-intensive approach to Christmas.
But, of course, as relaxing as it might be to spend Christmas Day in bed with a good book, it only works if the book is actually enjoyable for the person who is reading it. Buying something to read for someone else can be challenging. A good book is a great gift, but the wrong book is a paperweight with pages.
It is the problem that GiftLit was founded in 2004 to solve, under the motto that good books make great gifts.
“GiftLit was built to help streamline gift-giving by helping users manage what they want and what they are getting for friends and family,” a representative told PYMNTS.
To do that, GiftLit looks to take the guesswork out of book selection by asking the buyer to tell them about the recipient, starting with whether they are a child or an adult. From there, the shopper can browse the various collections on offer – non-fiction, popular fiction, science fiction, memoirs, etc. – to find what best suits the reading needs of their friend or loved one. The books within the collection, according to the site, are organized and curated for readers by an in-house team of experts – educators, bookstore workers, publishers and so on – to offer something for every reader, from the classics to hard-to-find new authors.
Once the subscription is chosen and paid for, a gift announcement goes to the recipient letting them know they will be the proud owner of a book subscription for three, six or 12 months, and indicating what book they are due to receive. If they happen to have read the book already – or if the service picks something they aren’t interested in –substitutions are offered and encouraged. The longer a user is subscribed and the more books they choose, the better the service will be able to match the reader to future tomes.
Moreover, GiftLit noted, in 2019 they expanded their offerings to make it easier for friends and family members to build book subscriptions as a team. For this year’s holiday season, the company has added the option for users to create “favorite” lists and add them to a special “Lists I’m Watching” section. The app also recently embedded a group chat feature so bookworms of the world can unite and plan their holiday readings.
In the 15 years that GiftLit has been around, they have seen a lot of books-on-delivery businesses rise up to challenge them. But the service continues going strong (and growing), because, as they pointed out, they have gotten very good at the essential skill for any book subscription service: bringing the right reading material to the right reader at the right time.
“GiftLit makes it easy for anyone to easily select and send the very best books in any category to friends, family and colleagues,” the firm noted.
And while it probably won’t be enough to push the nation toward a mass celebration of the Yule Book Flood, it will certainly make it easier for those who actually want to celebrate Jólabókaflóð to do so.