Are my grandkids from Iceland?

(A version of this item appeared in The Sault Star Dec. 5.)

A couple of my grandkids and I started a new Christmas tradition recently.

We went shopping for moderately priced toys that kids their age might like. They selected one apiece. I paid. 

Then we headed for the Christmas Cheer depot so they could donate their gifts and get a glimpse of the huge local operation dedicated to making everyone’s holiday happy.

Christmas Cheer collects money, toys, food and other good stuff and assembles baskets to distribute to needy families in the Sault Ste Marie. area.

Charitable acts are rampant at this time of year. I expect other grandparents and grandkids do things along the same lines.

This sort of ritual gave me a chance to introduce notions of volunteerism and social responsibility into the pre-Christmas frenzy, though I generally try to be Fun Grandpa instead of a pedantic old poop.

It’s also a good, sneaky way to find out what your grandkids would like for Christmas.

To my surprise, what these two want is books.

We were heading down the mall in the direction of the toy stores when my devilish duo dragged me into a book store.

“I think a boy my age would really like some books,” said the eldest, in the same tone of voice I use to extol the therapeutic virtues of beer. 

The youngest already had glommed on to some beginning reader books and was too absorbed to second that opinion, though it was clear he agreed.

Think One then attempted to read every page of every graphic novel on the shelves, a task that would have seen him evicted about eight hours later by store staff anxious to get home.

That presented another teaching moment for grandpa, on the difference between books in a library and those for sale in a store. Together we pondered the not-so-fine line between examining the teeth of a gift horse and dissecting the animal.

I don’t think books top most people’s Christmas lists, either for giving or receiving. Electronic media bombard us with toys and electronics, booze and chocolates, even cars.

Indigo book store’s web page has Top 50 Toys at the top of its “What Kids Want” web page; you have to scroll down to get Top 50 Books

So though I’ve spent a lifetime reading and writing and have published a book of my own, I was almost automatically headed for the toy aisles that afternoon.

In the end, we ended up buying toys for Christmas Cheer, because reading choices are so much a matter of personal taste. 

But I remain convinced that paper beats plastic, so I’m glad my grandkids, who have a plethora of Lego in their lives already, felt the same.

It makes me wonder if there’s an Icelandic branch in the old family tree.

Icelanders have a delightful tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve and then spending the night with their noses between the covers. (The book covers; don’t be naughty.) And isn’t that better than watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the 32nd time?

Each autumn, households in Iceland receive a free catalogue of newly published books, called the Bokatidindi. That’s the start of a buying frenzy known as Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas book flood.

“It’s like firing the guns at the opening of a race,” researcher Baldur Bjarnason is quoted in a (paperless) article. “It’s not like this is a catalog that gets put in everybody’d mailbox and everybody ignores it. Books get attention here.”

So it’s no accident that there are more books published and read per capita in Iceland than in any other country. One in 10 Icelanders will publish a book in his or her or (insert gender-fluid pronoun here) lifetime.

My smiley face at the Christmas Market

Some of my fellow local writers and I are tried to start a mini-Jolabokaflod in Sault Ste. Marie this Christmas.

We put a booth in the Silver Bells Christmas Market Dec. 9, which benefitted the Kidney Foundation.

Nevin Buconjic, Bryan Davies, Ruth Fletcher, Gregory Saxby and Karen Davidson Zachary joined me to chat about and sell our publications. We also had books by Paula Dunning.

We sold a few books and met some old and new friends.

But more important, some of those bazaar-goers who looked at us as if we were from Mars might now be thinking that books belong under the Christmas tree.

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