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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Jolabokaflod?

Book Babies Team Leader Meytal Barak and son Noam, with their winter break reading selection


Perhaps you’ve heard of Iceland’s envy-inducing Christmas tradition: Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood. For nearly a century, Icelanders have given books as gifts to family and friends on Christmas Eve, to be read right away and all through the night. And while a book flood sounds exactly like something the Book Harvest staff might count among our own traditions, it didn’t come up once when I asked our staff to share their favorite winter holiday book or storytelling traditions and memories. Here’s what some of them shared instead:

Rachel: When my two boys were young, I loved collecting Christmas books and reading them over and over to them during the days leading up to the holiday. Of course, I have saved all of those books, and I love to bring them out and have them available for our friends and family who come over with younger kids. I see my own sons who have outgrown the books still read these books from time to time. They hold many special memories for us.

Meytal: A couple of weeks ago, my son Noam read The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish (a young NC author) and he said, “For winter break, Mami, make sure you read this book. You will love it!” Can’t wait to read it, and have the time to discuss the book with him over break.

Paula: For nine nights before Christmas, family, friends, and neighbors gather each evening in someone’s home for La Novena. La Novena is a set of prayers, songs, and storytelling told nine days before Christmas filled with musical instruments and food. This tradition comes from Colombia and is practiced in other countries as well. I enjoy this time because I get to gather with family and friends, laugh, sing, and eat yummy food!

Amy: I grew up in a print-rich environment. My mom was a reader. My great-grandmother who raised my mother and lived next door to us was a reader. My younger sisters and I were readers. It was not uncommon to walk into our home and find us spread out in different parts of the house reading. At times we could all be found sitting in the same room, not a word spoken by anyone, each of us with a book in our hand, engrossed, the world around us having fallen away. For the longest time, Mommy and Gramma were enamored with Harlequin romances (bleck!) and Gramma couldn’t get enough of True Story, a magazine my sisters and I were not allowed to read. I also vividly remember there always being Reader’s Digest on hand—the magazine and the condensed books they published. I remember us having some sort of book club membership and receiving hardcover children’s books in the mail monthly, and we had a subscription to Highlights, which my sisters and I fought over at the arrival of every single issue. Each of us wanted to be the first to solve whatever puzzles or mazes were included. Though I have no special story or memory around books and the holidays except us pleading to be taken to the public library so we would have enough new reading material to get us through the break, I am pretty certain it is because books were woven into the fabric of our daily lives. They were a constant and we didn’t do anything special centered around them. They were just always there and reading for pleasure was our norm.

Daniele: My family of origin celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah, honoring both my parents’ traditions. The celebration of Hanukkah lasts eight nights, which means my lucky sister and I received a LOT of gifts — and that’s not even figuring in the mound underneath the Christmas tree! (When I look back on it now as a parent myself, I marvel at not only the financial investment that represented on my parents’ part, but also my mom’s time and creativity to choose all those gifts!)

Inevitably, the first night of Hanukkah brought “the big gift,” the one that was something so special we wouldn’t ever even have dared to ask for it. (Our own small televisions for our bedrooms when we were young teens is the most memorable surprise.) But later in the week, maybe around night six or seven, we always knew what our gifts were as soon as my mom brought the wrapped packages downstairs: “BOOK NIGHT!” we would declare when we saw the telltale rectangular packages. And while I think my mom thought of that as the simplest, least expensive of the nights, I remember opening those packages as eagerly as all the others, excited to see what the shiny new bedtime story for the night would be or what novel I might read into the hours past my bedtime.

Nadiah: Stories are shape-shifters…

The older I get, the more I become aware of the many ways in which a story can exist. Stories can live in books. They can rest in photographs, and they can be sprinkled into recipes. They can be extracted from soil, planted in schools, and blossom in long lines at grocery stores.

And although we don’t exactly have a tradition of storytelling in our family, the mere gathering of those who we know and love, those who share our lineage — or not — has become a story all its own.

Our story.

One that need not be spoken. Or recorded. Or published. Only gifted. From generation to generation.

And as you close out this year, I encourage all of you, my extended Book Harvest family, to find your stories in all of their unique forms and tell them. Sing them. Share them… Again, and again.

Whatever your traditions and however you may be spending the winter holidays and ringing in 2019, we wish you Season’s Readings from all of us at Book Harvest!

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