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Even Jews Can Get Behind This Icelandic Christmas Eve Book Tradition

iceland books

Here in the U.S., many of us Jews spend Christmas eating Chinese food and watching movies — “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to be said in Seinfeld-ian voice. Personally, I love a good vegetarian moo shoo and movie.  

But apparently in Iceland, it’s a national tradition to spend Christmas Eve eating and drinking chocolate and reading new books (!!!). I mean, I’m big into Judaism, but this is a kind of holiday I can definitely get behind.

It’s called Jolabokaflod, which basically means “Christmas book flood.” The tradition began during World War II, when basically everything was rationed in Iceland except for paper. So Icelanders started giving books as gifts for Christmas — and a new, brilliant tradition took root.

So let’s just say, for whatever reason, a night filled with MSG and RBG (I refer, of course, to On The Basis of Sex, the new Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie coming out at Christmas) doesn’t appeal to you this year. Or maybe you just can’t find a sitter (I feel you). Here are 10 great options for you to cozy up with this Erev Christmas — or anytime during the so-called “Winter Break.”

1. Becoming, by Michelle Obama

I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know already here. The former First Lady is amazingly open, witty, and endearing in her new memoir, which covers everything from her romance with that Barack guy to her upbringing to her parenting. She rocks, and so does the book.

2. Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, by Naomi Levy

This book will change your life for the better. I admire Levy’s deft skill in being accessible and yet profound, personal and yet global, and always impactful. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

3. A Place for Us: A Novel, by Fatima Farheen Mirza

This was possibly the most perfect book I read this past year. It is a comparatively simple story of an interfamilial dynamic, and yet the prose is exquisite, the story compelling and the characters resonant with truth and life.

4. An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice, by Khizr Khan

You probably remember Khan for his compelling speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. This memoir is a meditation on his own journey from Pakistan to America, his love for his country, and his ultimate sacrifice (his son Humayun, a U.S. Army captain, was killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004). This book is an amazing portrait of strength, courage, hope, and patriotism.

5. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister

An astonishingly fierce read about American women and the power fury can hold. It will motivate you and inspire you with its intellectual exegesis.

6. The Bette Davis Club, by Jane Lotter

This book was so much fun, as an aunt is asked to chase down her runaway bride niece and has to face her own demons of the past in doing so. The book was published posthumously by the writer’s daughter — the foreword alone will make your heart expand beautifully.

7. Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win, by Jo Piazza

This fun read takes you through the fictional story of a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate and her political and personal struggles. It’s fast-paced and relatable.

8. No One Tells You This, by Glynnis MacNicol

Oh, this book is masterful. What’s it like in the minds of women who don’t have kids? I don’t know first-hand, but I adore this beautiful book which asks and answers big questions.

9. Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, by Dan-el Padilla Peralta

Well, the title pretty much puts it all out there. But this book brings home some of the more thorny questions of what it means to be undocumented, told through the lens of the story of a kid who becomes a classical scholar.

10. Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris

Maybe you want to curl up by a warm fire and read a laugh-out-loud book that touches on Christmas? This one’s the one for you. I laughed so hard reading his depiction of himself as an angry Macy’s Christmas elf that I nearly peed. Enjoy!

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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