Celebrating norsk jul in the New World

A Christmas gift all about Norwegian Americans

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Elyce Rubin.
Cynthia Elyce Rubin and Håvard Mossige have compiled a festive collection of vintage Christmas greetings from Norwegian America.

The Norwegian American

Glædelig JulThere are few people who have an entire office full of vintage Christmas cards, postcards, photographs, ceramic collectors’ plates, and other ephemera relating to Norwegian America, but fortunately for Håvard Mossige, a Norwegian photographer interested in learning more about what happened to the millions of Norwegians who left Norway for America, our own travel editor, Cynthia Elyce Rubin, does. The two have collaborated on a new book, Glædelig Yule! Minner og hilsener fra det norske Amerika (Merry Christmas! Memories and greetings from Norwegian America).

On the inside title page, the book is subtitled Norsk-amerikansk julefeiring i tekst og bilder (Norwegian-American Christmas celebration in text and pictures), and that is exactly what the book is—and much more. The table of contents provides a clear overview of what is to come, with sections about all aspects of the Norwegian holiday in America, including Christmas cards, prayers, food, music, nisse and reindeer, and yuletide and New Year’s greetings.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Elyce Rubin

Almost all Norwegians have at least one relative somewhere in their family history who made their way to North America, and the authors point out that Christmas is often a time when one might wonder what happened to them and if the beloved home traditions have lived on.

To set the stage for the big Norwegian-American celebration, the authors offer a brief history of the settlement of North America, beginning with Leif Erikson’s first landing in Vinland, which is today the province of Newfoundland in Canada. This is not a scholarly presentation, but it resets the mind somehow. Throughout the book, there are fun images to help tell the story.


Image courtesy of Cynthia Elyce Rubin.

For me, the most enjoyable section of the book is one filled with images of the elaborate Christmas cards that were sent back to Norway. Patriotism abounds with flags and the Statue of Liberty, but there is also good dose of sentimentalism. Well into the 20th century, the clothing depicted still looks very Norwegian, and in most of the cards selected, the Anglo-American Santa has not eclipsed the nisse, even if “Merry Christmas” has won out over “God jul.” One of the most interesting Christmas cards depicts the first Norwegian emigrant ship Restaurationen, which sailed from Stavanger in 1825 with 52 Norwegians aboard—not exactly a Christmas motif but a very interesting piece of history.

Included are also so-called “tall tale postcards”—skrønepostkort—that exaggerate and brag about life in the land of milk and honey. They remind one of the popular folk song “Oleana” about the great violin virtuoso and his utopian colony in Pennsylvania, where the cows milked themselves and hens laid eggs 10 times a day.

These non-holiday postcards provide an interesting backdrop to the presentation of Norwegian Christmas traditions that follows. Here a much simpler, realistic view of the lives of the Norwegian immigrants is shown in an array of photos and drawings. There is a lot of lefse and lutefisk. The church played prominently in the lives of the early Norwegian Americans, and it is learned that much of the activity in their community was centered there, especially at Christmastime.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Elyce Rubin

There is much more to be learned from this book, from the silly cartoons to the serious business of romance and marriage. There is also an overview of famous Norwegian Americans and a catalog of Norwegian-American organizations today.

And, of course, Norwegian-language newspapers are mentioned up to the oldest and only Norwegian newspaper in North America, our own proud publication, The Norwegian American.

A crazy quilt of color, this book is delightful from beginning to end, a tapestry of life, high-spirited, and full of fun. The Norwegian text is straightforward and easy to read, and even if you don’t know any Norwegian, you can still enjoy this book with all its vivid imagery.

Glædelig Yule! Minner og hilsener fra det norske Amerika would make a great gift for your relatives in Norway and the perfect coffee table book for any Norwegian-American home to enjoy throughout the holiday season and the whole year round.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 11, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.