We need Christmas nostalgia more than ever
Håvard Mossige celebrates the season with an old-fashioned julehefte
For Håvard Mossige, it’s become second nature to look for Christmas atmosphere all year round. Now he’s at it again with a new julehefte—a Christmas booklet—about the Christmas celebrations of the “olden days.”
Håvard Mossige has previously published two Christmas booklets based on Anders B. Wilse’s photographs and another about Christmas in Norwegian America. Now he’s back with a booklet about Christmas in the olden days called Glad Jul—Merry Christmas. In it, he’s collected curious newspaper clippings and advertisements, among other things. It leads to the question of whether this type of nostalgic Christmas appeals to us a little more right now in the time of the pandemic.
“We’ve all been longing for joy and laughter now; it’s been two hard years. The past has something to teach us, including that people have struggled in the past as well. Back then, they helped each other, fought their way through, and things got better again,” said the julehefte enthusiast.
“It’s the case that our time is also a historical time. There is a lot of optimism in just that,” he said.
Mossige’s julehefte this year gives us a glimpse into holidays of the past through old postcards, gift ideas, and advertisements. For Mossige, it has been a huge job to collect everything, and he admits that he thinks a lot about Christmas throughout the entire year.
“Good feedback and the luck of the draw make it meaningful to put these booklets together; it’s become a bit of a tradition. Some people find their ancestors in the photos or newspaper clippings, and they contact me. It’s been my experience that there is always something new to learn, threads to follow and contexts that are fun to discover. So, yes, it’s probably going to be a bit of Christmas for much of the year for me,” said Mossige.
“This summer, for example, I stopped by a vintage magazine stand and thought about how the old-fashioned seller stalls were before Christmas. It became a chapter in this year’s booklet.”
Light as something magical
A common element in Mossige’s Christmas booklets is that they create snapshots of time full of atmosphere through postcards, newspaper clippings, photographs, and advertisements. He also promises that there will be both romance and a few melancholic elements in this year’s booklet, which is the most content-rich he has put together so far.
In the material he goes through, something else emerges: how much Christmas has stood the test of time—even in difficult times.
“The Christmas Star probably shone brighter when life was characterized by cold and darkness. Today, we are better off, we take light for granted, but it’s really something magical. In the beginning, electric lighting was an attraction that people charged admission fees to show off.”
Mossige also points out that the meaning of Christmas was different a few generations ago: “For a hungry child’s mouth, Christmas candy must have been a taste of heaven. Back then, you could really enjoy nuts and Christmas apples, but do we do that today? I would also like to believe that the calm that descended upon us was deeper and more peaceful than the one we experience today. It shone in quiet villages, and in the cities, one could also see the starry skies.”
The author thinks there is something about the “old-fashioned” Christmas that appeals to us today. “Christmas is so rich. It is at the same time tradition, joy, and the sadness that time is passing by. At its best, it provides us with a connection to the past, something that is steady, something that we can return to. Changing times probably provide a solid breeding ground for nostalgia; we want to return to that which is simple and real,” he said.
Moss in the bread
Mossige thinks everyone who harbors a touch of fascination for an old-fashioned Christmas will find something to enjoy in his new julehefte. “Those interested in vintage paraphernalia and design will also find a lot of stylish material, and for some, the newer material up to the 1960s will evoke memories. Today’s young people will perhaps be the most delighted to see all the curious things, to see the humor,” he said.
Stories from vintage newspapers tell of the farm elf, the nisse, the huldre folk, and the round red troll potatoes Norwegians used to eat at Christmastime. In addition to photos from archives, some of which he has colorized himself, the booklet is full of Christmas cards, party games, riddles, quizzes, and vintage jokes, as well as a couple of self-composed Christmas poems.
When asked what has touched his heart a little more than usual while working on this year’s booklet, he said, “After the last world war, there was a shortage of most things. Notices were put up to let you know that could apply to get a few grams of cocoa for children’s Christmas parties. In the period between the wars, newspaper notices about famine were seen in parts of Finnmark; the children starved themselves throughout the Christmas season. It puts today’s celebration in a bit of perspective. In 1917, the authorities considered the use of moss in bread-baking. That committee was strangely enough led by someone named Nissen.”
The author also thinks that some elements in the Christmas booklet may surprise his readers. “That bananas and carrier pigeons were given as Christmas presents is perhaps news to many. They may also be surprised to learn that 110 years ago, women placed ads stating that they wanted a ‘Christmas lover.’”
But much remains the same. One finds, for example, uninhibited, somewhat racy photos from private Christmas parties from the beginning of the 20th century. An 1889 article from the newspaper Morgenbladet complains about the “gift nonsense” and that the entire family expects expensive and nice gifts. “It is not the state tax that will destroy Norway. It’s the Christmas gifts!”
Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.