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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Labun: The Christmas Book Flood

Every year the people of Iceland enjoy a phenomenon called the Christmas Book Flood. And while I appreciate the image of books flowing through Icelandic fjords, I hasten to add that this isn’t a natural phenomenon. It’s the publishing industry’s response to the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve, so that people may stay up late into the night reading… usually with chocolate.

And ever since I first heard if it, I’ve wanted a Christmas Book Flood here.

In fact, for two decades now I’ve cheated at our annual Yankee Swap to ensure that I get a book to read on Christmas Eve. But having multiple books to choose from - that would improve the experience . . . plus some years I go amiss and end up with a salad shooter instead of a paperback.

I’m not calling for a Book Flood in America out of virtue. I subsist on a steady diet of whodunits, enlivened by an occasional light romance. No, what I really want is an excuse for indulgence.

I do think it might improve the holiday experience. Studies repeatedly show that reading a book reduces stress. Reading can help us work out problems through the eyes of the protagonists and improve our empathy towards others. So even though we may ignore our family in favor of spending time with characters in a novel, it’s still ultimately for their benefit. Far less insulting than ditching them for the virtual company of friends online.

There’s even something called bibliotherapy now, which is just what it sounds like - assigned reading of fiction as therapy.

This means you’ve got entertainment, a streamlined gift list, late night snacking and therapy all in one holiday tradition. Incredible.

And it doesn’t have to be only a Christmas book flood either. Any holiday with an Eve will do. Or other times when sleep is collectively low – like the World Series or the political debate season. All we need is a cultural understanding that it’s perfectly fine to disappear upstairs with a stack of new books and a modest box of chocolates.

Iceland has brought us many great things, from being the first country to elect a female president to producing the world’s finest hot dogs… feats that have both proven difficult to replicate.

But a book flood? Now, that should be easy.

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.
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