Bringing Iceland’s Jólabókaflóð to Your Home

I’ve always been intrigued by Iceland. For someone who lives in a tropical archipelago, I imagine it’s pretty much the opposite of what I know. Watching travel shows featuring it, I was further enchanted by its exotic (for someone based near the equator) qualities like its combination of glaciers, geysers, and volcanoes; its non-stop sun in the summer and super short winter days; its close-knit community with everybody being related to everybody else (this is actually familiar to me, being from a city with a small town vibe – but Iceland is a whole freakin’ country!), etc.

In recent years, I learned of another Icelandic offering that really resonated with the avid bibliophile in me. Every year, Iceland holds the Jólabókaflóð (Yule book flood). In the weeks before Christmas, new books are released, and every household gets a catalogue of the new titles.

This tradition dates back to the Second World War when there were restrictions on imported giftware. Since imported paper wasn’t as restricted and Iceland has always had a solid literary tradition, books became the default gift at Christmastime. Thus ensued the lasting custom of exchanging books at Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading.

For a bookworm like me, that sounds like heaven, especially now when I can’t sit for two minutes without one of my kids demanding my attention.

When I was growing up, I was always certain that I would get a book(s) on my birthday and Christmas. Books didn’t cost much (in the late ’80s, most children’s books like the Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and the Newbery titles were about 30Php brand new) and my mom could be sure that I would enjoy them. We weren’t poor, but my dad is kind of an ascetic. He shuns materialism and is critical of indulgences, so there was that element in our childhood.

Now, with my own kids, I don’t really get them books as gifts. I buy a lot of books on ordinary days, and then get them other presents for special occasions. My husband and I tend to bend over backwards trying to think of presents that would make our kids ecstatic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I sometimes wonder if they can better learn gratitude and appreciation if we keep our gifts simple.

***I know I mentioned on the Ulysses post that I was just doing a last edit on this one and it was pretty much ready to go. I’m afraid, however, that WordPress failed me. For some reason, the saved draft didn’t include anything past the previous paragraph, so I’m rewriting three long essential sections of the post. I hope I can recall all the main points, and that what comes next reads well since I’m typing it while still disgruntled. 😀

The Benefits of Observing Jólabókaflóð

Of course, getting books is a perk in itself, but there are other benefits that should urge you to consider observing Jólabókaflóð – or a version of it, at least.

  • Less expensive gifts. If you decide to just give books on Christmas, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to trim down your usual holiday gift budget. If you can find pre-loved books in good condition, even better/cheaper. Anybody else out there who actually prefers secondhand books?
  • No great cost divide. You won’t have to worry about your gifts being “unequal.” There shouldn’t be a huge price gap between books unless you’re giving rare editions, a complete series, or those expensive coffee table books. It’s probably still best to set a price cap, but even if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be facing something akin to an exchange involving an expensive watch and a rap song (“Friends” reference).
  • Something for everyone. If somebody’s claiming to be a non-reader, I’m certain there would be books out there that would interest him or her. There are all kinds of books, and on every possible topic. I know people will read if they’re interested enough in the content; after all, supposed non-readers can read social media posts the entire day. 😀
  • Exercise in simplicity. While books are still purchased, there’s something about giving them that seems like a less commercial exercise. Although a book is not the most impressive present you can give, it’s usually a thoughtful one, and you’re essentially catering to a simple yet timeless pleasure.
  • Gift of slow time. Today’s pace is incredibly fast and we are super distracted. I really feel sorry that my kids aren’t growing up in a time that allows them to create and imagine more, to put in more effort to arrive at what they need or want, and to deal with those idle, boring moments with minimal modern provisions for amusement. Books belong to that lost era.  Thankfully, they were able to cross over to and linger in this millennium. Time spent with a book is quiet and serene, even if your mind has wandered off to a wild adventure in a far off place and distant time. It’s a true gift. ***Let me note that the original post was a lot more “ranty” than this, haha.
  • Lesson in gratitude. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to delight our kids that we unconsciously teach them to expect grander things. It would be in their interest to teach them to appreciate every kind of present. If they can feel joy in their heart over a new book to read, that’s a win for you as a parent.

Coming up with Your Own Jólabókaflóð Tradition

Not being in Iceland or even Icelandic, you’ll just have to borrow the custom and perhaps tweak it to better suit your family. Here are some ideas you can apply in making your own Christmas book flood tradition.

1. Hygge it up.

Make the entire evening extra cozy. Since in the Philippines we do our Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, and that’s usually a fun and noisy feast, you might want to choose the eve of Christmas Day for your Jólabókaflóð. You can wear your pjs, set out some hot cocoa and munchies for the family, play some nostalgic Christmas muzak, use warm lighting, and diffuse some Christmassy essential oil blend. You can relish all that hygge as you read your new books.

2. Decorate with books.

You can fashion a tree from a pile of books. Festoon it with fairy lights, perch a star or fairy on top, and you have yourself a Jolabokaflod tree! It can be the focal point of the area where you will be exchanging books and reading.

3. Have a theme.

Themes always make events more interesting. You’d think that books would be enough as the unifying theme, but you can narrow it down to something more specific. It could be an author, a decade, a place, a topic… Just make sure to have the right spread and décor. Maybe even attire?

4. Serve Icelandic Fare.

As a nod to where it all started, you can have an Icelandic treat. You can buy ready-made goodies or try creating something from a recipe. Something that looks relatively easy to make is pönnukökur, which is Icelandic pancakes with skyr (a dairy product that’s close to Greek yogurt). Honestly, it’s just pancakes; it’s the skyr that makes it Icelandic. If you can’t find skyr, you can sub with Greek yogurt. Pair it with a popular Christmas drink called jólaöl, which is a mix of malt and orange soda.

5. Read books and eat chocolates.

Jólabókaflóð explanations don’t always specify that Icelanders have to eat chocolates while reading in bed, but quite a few do, and that picture understandably appeals to me more. Reading + chocolates sounds heavenly, and it’s a custom I’d be happy to start with bells on.

I’m always eager to talk about books and reading, so let me know if you’re considering adopting this wonderful Icelandic treasure for your home. I’m sure you can come up with more ways to make your own Christmas book exchange more fun and specifically suited to your family’s holiday needs, tastes, and traditions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas here. 🙂

Introducing the Joy of Friluftsliv to Our Kids

Last year, the word du jour was hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everybody was hygge-ing it up with their warm drinks, home-baked goodies, and candles, trying to create the sense of coziness that the philosophy embodies.

I personally embrace the concept. I’m an introverted, albeit family-oriented homebody, so my personality is pretty much designed to revel in all that warm, intimate togetherness. In the-ber months here in the Philippines, it can be cool enough so hot cocoas, frequent cuddles, and a perpetually steaming, cinnamon-scented kitchen become even more enjoyable.  Take note, I said more enjoyable – that means we’re a people who are used to hot dishes and drinks as well as cozy snuggles in varying degrees of tropical heat.

This year, however, another Scandinavian word is working its way into popular consciousness. Friluftsliv, an ancient Nordic philosophy that literally translates to “free air life”, is about spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

Unlike hygge, which is easy enough to say even for my untrained tongue, friluftsliv is quite the mouthful, and it will trip my tongue and tangle it up if I say it without proper preparation. It also takes similar effort for me to get behind it, not because I don’t agree with it since I wholeheartedly do, but because my mental conditioning tries to limit me to comfy, air-conditioned, wildlife-free interiors.

It’s all a lie, though, I’ve discovered. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. The problem is that I have a tendency to be lazy and finicky, an inclination I used to frequently indulge, which unfortunately led me to turning down opportunities to get out there and choosing to stay comfortably ensconced within the confines of my home. I’ve found though that when I did step out of my comfort zone, my effort was always rewarded. Being out there in nature never failed to enrich me.

Being a parent in this day and age, I have to be even more diligent about making that conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It was author Richard Louv who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder”, and it’s a truly alarming condition, considering so many children are happy to vegetate at home, staring at a screen for hours on end. This activity, and I use the word with irony, is something that has been associated to the exacerbation of mental and emotional disorders, so parents really have to be vigilant in qualifying and quantifying the exposure that their children get. In my opinion, and I’ve been to known to have reasonable ones, the natural world is as fine an exposure as children can get.

Spending a lot of time in nature, as what friluftsliv advocates, is important to a person’s wellbeing. Human beings were meant to live in it and not in the artificial setting we’ve come to fashion for ourselves. Something integrally within us seeks out the natural world and connects with it. That’s why when we give ourselves a healthy dose of nature, we feel revived. We get that kind of energy from a living, breathing world.

They might not have called it friluftsliv, but the experts have been pushing us to ingrain it into the lifestyle of our families. It is quite easy and cheap to do too. Contrary to popular expectation, outdoor recreation does not have to be extremely rugged. You don’t have to go rappelling, spelunking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, etc.

You don’t have to travel a long distance either to experience nature. Where I live, a stroll around the neighborhood is sufficient. There are nearby parks that also serve quite well. Nearby university campuses have also nice offerings in the way of greenery. Graveyards have also been known to work for us. When we want to be in the thick of wildlife, we fortunately only need to go for a short drive. We live in a river valley and the mountains surrounding us have plenty to offer that bears exploring.

What do we hope to gain by observing friluftsliv? The benefits include increased physical activity, lower stress levels, and seriously quality time spent either alone or with company. And you get to achieve all of them amid the beauty of God’s creation, which is unparalleled.

Do you feel the lure of nature? What do you do to make sure that you and  your family regularly get to connect with it?

Avoiding Travel-cum-Penance

kiddies in the poolHappy Easter! We’ve just come from our annual church outing, which usually involves swimming to accommodate the water baptism of new (and not-so-new) members. The church rented a private resort in nearby Antipolo, which, I admit, was a relief compared to the original plan of a week-long church camp in Baguio (about 6 to 7 hours away). It was nice to have the place to ourselves. The super light traffic and short travel time were definite advantages as well.

Back in the day, our Holy Week activities were not so simple. A family camp in Baguio was a frequent choice, and it was always an experience that was, for the most part, a blessing, but was, fittingly, rather a demonstration of penance as well. The travel is enough to have you frothing at the mouth with Tarlac boringly stretching forever and Pangasinan roads frustratingly congested… And then we always scheduled a city tour on Good Friday, the last day before we headed back to the Manila. This would have been strategic, except that a million other tourists usually had the same idea.

If it were up to me, I’d really avoid travel during Holy Week. In this day and age of easy Internet and cable TV access, I wouldn’t mind holing up at home while the rest of the world frantically contend with each other in Easter break holidaymaking (which is quite the contact sport, for all intents and purposes). The Holy Week of yore with the punishing heat punctuated by the eerie wailing of neighbors doing the Pasión and a Charlton Heston extravaganza being the sole source of entertainment (and this would have been from Monday to Wednesday as Thursday through Saturday would have been completely dead) is no more.

Consistent with my contrary self, I prefer to travel when it’s unpopular to do so. As homeschoolers, we find it easy to go for a vacation during off- and shoulder seasons, which are definitely cheaper times to travel. We’ve also been able to get weekday rates (sometimes almost half of what the weekend and holiday rates are) since we don’t need to wait until the weekend to travel. We are able to avoid the throngs of people and appreciate the vacation more. Then again, I’m an introvert, so perhaps my perceived benefit is not quite the perk I make it out to be for other people.

Incidentally, we’re not making any elaborate travel plans this year as we have our sights on a more salutary use of our funds. Travel, however, we shall still do as that’s a huge element in the lifestyle we’ve chosen for our family. But perhaps not at such great distances. Thankfully, there’s still much to explore in the vicinity of the Metro.

On y va à Paris – Exploring Paper Paris

Do you have any place on this planet that has you aching to be there – at least, when you pause to indulge in fancies and think about it? I have several, but I think it’s pretty accurate to say that at the top of my list is Paris. I love it with a passion characteristic of the most rabid francophile. I’ve been fortunate to have been blessed with the opportunity to visit the city when I was younger, and now it’s my wish to be able to go back, this time with my family.

I have to confess breeding a fascination for the city in my daughter. In fact, when she was a baby, my husband and I had droll exchanges wherein Mark (who’s a gadget-loving techie) would ask the infant Marguerite if she would like an iPod, his roundabout way of trying to convince me that we should get one – not for himself, but for the baby, you know. The reply he got was always “I’d rather go to Paris, Daddy.” Of course, that was just me taking the liberty to answer for the clueless, innocent baby. In mock outrage, Mark would point out how many iPods were equivalent to one trip to Paris. And I would calmly respond that that’s why we shouldn’t buy one or we’d never be able to save up for Paris.

In any case, in between viewings and readings of such matter as Ratatouille, Madeline, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. as well as frequent tuning in to the travel channel, I’ve successfully instilled in my daughter a healthy (thus far) fascination for the City of Lights.

paper paris template

 

While we are not yet able to organize a family trip to Paris, we simply make do with this nifty paper version created by artist and designer Joel Henriques. I forget from which news feed on Facebook I got the link to the free template, but I owe that homeschool mom some thanks. Marguerite loves it and I also get to teach her some French (my minor in college) while we’re playing. I initially tried to refrain from teaching her French since she’s currently learning Spanish and might get confused, but I couldn’t help it. Anyway, I don’t think that a few words and phrases would do much damage. Paper Paris is designed for play, but, right off, it can teach kids the following:

– some of the most famous landmarks in the world (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe)

– the French words for bakery, candy store, and pastry shop

– the appearance of the French flag

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Parent playmates could, of course, introduce other information during play (like hum “La Marseillaise”, give French names to the paper dolls, teach members of the family in French, etc.)

Naturally, playing with Paper Paris also inspired me to whip out my scrapbook and show Marguerite photos of myself in the city, with those very landmarks in the background. Without a doubt, it’s a great toy, but it does have me pining for Paris even more. ;p

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