The traditional Norwegian Julehefte makes its comeback

Christmas idylls from days gone by


Photo: Oslo Museum / Anders Beer Wilse / colorized by Håvard Mossige
Julelysene tennes —The Christmas candles are lit (1911).

The Norwegian American

Move over, Herborg Kråkevik. For six years running, your “Christmas Roses” magazine and musical tour has been a big hit with the Norwegian public, and now others are joining in on the fun. Here at The Norwegian American, this is the second year of our annual Julehefte, our own take on the traditional yuletide booklet, and we have some special content of our own.

This year, it is somehow only fitting that we should feature Anders Beer Wilse’s vintage photographs of Christmas in Norway as it was celebrated over 100 years ago. And in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could also use a little nostalgia and comfort.

Two years ago, Norwegian photographer Håvard Mossige collected a number of Wilse pictures for his own Christmas booklet, It glows in quiet villages (Det lyser i stille grender). It was a success, and last year, he followed up with a new booklet he called Now mother lights all the candles (Nu tænder moder alle lys). And now, Mossige was kind enough to share the love with us here at The Norwegian American, by granting us permission to reprint some of the photos from it for our readers.


Photo: Oslo Museum / Anders Beer Wilse / colorized by Håvard Mossige
Barn med julenek og juletre—Children with a Christmas sheath and Christmas tree (1908).

“The advantage of Wilse is that he took an adventurous number of photos, a quarter of a million,” said Mossige, who went through the archives of the photographer’s winter and Christmas photos.

“One longs to return to a time when things seemed simpler and perhaps warmer,” Mossige told NTB upon publication of his booklet last year.

The pictures Mossige picked out embrace an entire spectrum of Norwegian society from the olden days, from a simply dressed woman with a Christmas sheath in her arms to a town courier who brings a Christmas tree to the door of a stately apartment building.

“They had a community, which we today—when community can be in short supply—see the value of,” said Mossige. “And then the contrasts were greater! For Christmas, there were sweets and candles; now we have everything all year. Everything is thoroughly lit and sugared, all year round.”

Mossige shared how he wanted to highlight Wilse’s own story with this new presentation of the Christmas photos. He wondered what could motivate someone to travel through the deep of the Norwegian winter schlepping a 44-pound camera to document the daily lives and traditions of Norwegians.


Photo: Oslo Museum / Anders Beer Wilse / colorized by Håvard Mossige
Juleaften. Youngstorget—Christmas Eve. Young’s Square, Oslo (1910).

“It is fascinating in itself: Who was this man? It must have taken tremendous stubbornness to travel around and take all these pictures. Perhaps no one else has traveled around Norway as much as Wilse. What drove him?”

But there is no doubt as to whether Wilse’s efforts were worth it, and Mossige’s work pays due homage to his great legacy. Wilse’s great-grandson, Christian Wilse, who lives in England, thinks so, too, and has given Mossige’s work his blessing. He is happy that the photographs are being seen again, many in new ways.

“It’s positive that the pictures are colored and put into new contexts,” he said.

Wilse preferred to shoot in black and white and took only a handful of color photos. But his assistant, Sigrid Boeck Nørregaard, hand-colored some of his photographs, especially those to be used in slideshows in Norway and the United States.

And Mossige also put his creativity to work, bringing a little color to some of the photos, here and there.

“I also tried myself, in Wilse’s spirit,” he said, “There are some pictures with Norwegian flags and Christmas trees literally screaming for a little color. You see a little more that these people, our ancestors, are like us—that they did not live in a black-and-white world. I think, with all due respect, that Wilse would have liked them to get some color,” said Mossige—all in the spirit of a very happy Christmas with the warmth and comfort of days gone by.

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

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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.