For the past four or five years, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been bombarded each winter with links to heartwarming articles about Jólabókaflód, the ancient Icelandic practice of giving books and chocolate on Christmas Eve.
Each Dec. 24, everyone in Iceland — as the stories say (or at least as the headlines say) — gives and gets books as gifts. And then the entire country crawls under their eiderdowns to read away the long winter's night. With chocolate.
Now this is what I call a great tradition. Why was I not born in Iceland? Maybe in a previous life?
But I am coming to realize that I should have read past the headlines, because as it turns out, the tradition is not ancient at all. It actually dates to 1944, when Iceland won its independence from Denmark.
And the tradition only became world-famous five years ago when a British book marketer happened upon it, launched a version in the U.K., and started spreading the word. (As marketers do.)
No matter. Ancient or modern, it's still a great idea.
The word Jólabókaflód means "the Christmas book flood," and indeed in Iceland there truly is a flood of books at Christmas.
In mid-November, the Icelandic publishing industry sends every household in Iceland a catalog of recently published books. (I love this. We should do this.)
People study the catalogs, order books for Christmas presents, and — since presents are usually opened on Christmas Eve there — the next thing you know, everyone is tucked up in bed, reading peacefully. All is calm, all is bright.
And the chocolate? Well, chocolate should automatically be part of any tradition, if you ask me.
I think I know why people are so entranced with this idea. It's simple. It's serene. It does not involve frantic last-minute shopping sprees at hot and crowded malls. It doesn't require batteries. It makes no noise. It doesn't light up and flash, and it doesn't break.
It's a much more soothing way to glide into Christmas morning than watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Web.
When I think about it, it seems that it could easily be an ancient tradition after all. Giving books and reading in bed did not originate in 1944. Both of those activities go way, way back.
I've always given books as gifts — for birthdays, for Christmas, for no reason other than I want a particular book to have a good home, or I want to give a particular person something they would love.
Under the Christmas tree in my house right now there are books for — let me count — at least five people.
If I play my cards right and drop fervent enough hints, there should be at least one book under the tree for me, too.
And chocolate? Never a problem in this house.
When you think about it, while Jólabókaflód is a lovely Christmas Eve tradition, it doesn't have to take place only on Christmas Eve — it can, and should, take place every night.
I hope you get books for the holidays, whatever holidays you celebrate. And I hope you get chocolate.
Happy Jólabókaflód, everyone, and to all a good night.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.