Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)

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Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)

Tom Brenne’s interest in Norwegian Christmas booklets (julehefter) was awakened when, in 1986, he took part in the television quiz program  Kvitt eller dobbelt (Double or Nothing). The subject was Norwegian author Mikkjel Fønhus – his life and writings.

When Tom delved into the subject, he discovered that Mikkjel Fønhus had not only written countless books, but also a number of short stories and articles in newspapers, weekly press, yearbooks – and not least Christmas booklets. From 1916 until his death in 1973, he wrote articles and short stories in more than 200 Christmas booklets.

Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)
Tom Brenne’s book on Norske julehefter was published in 2009. Photo: Tor Kjolberg

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Tom Brenne’s book on Norske julehefter (published in 2009) is about the literary Christmas booklets. Today, the Norwegian Christmas booklets are probably associated with cartoons such as the Katzenjammer Kids and Bringing up Father. But comic strips Christmas booklets are not the subject of his book. Nor the so-called Christmas albums, of which there were some. Brenne has also left out Christmas issues by the satirical press, although some of these also contain literary material. The history of the satirical press is, however, told by Bredo Berntsen in the book Skarpt sett (Sharply seen) (1999).

Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)
Jul på Nordmøre was a Cgristmas booklet from 1957.

The first Norwegian Christmas booklet already appeared in the early 19th century, for example Julegave (Christmas Gift) in Drammen in 1817. But the “proper” Christmas booklets with quality and four-color covers only started in the 1880s, and that’s where Brenne’s book also begins.

Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)
In the interwar period, the number of Christmas booklets “exploded”.

We find the peak in quality around the turn of the century. In these Christmas booklets, we find contributions from Norway’s best-known authors and illustrators with art supplements. “Back then, the Christmas booklet represented something, it was a small work of intellectual property,” wrote Audun Hierman in Småskrift for bokvenner in 1943. “In rural areas and villages, they arrived as a small breath of culture from outside.”

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Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)
Te Katzenjammer Kids (Knoll og Tott)

But in the interwar period, the number of Christmas booklets “exploded”, and many were rather given a touch of what we might call folk reading. “Nowadays, when you think about or talk about Christmas booklets, most people shrug their shoulders condescendingly. Anyone who has followed Christmas booklet literature over the past 30-40 years will have had disappointing experiences about the development and quality. The literary and artistic element is gone. Very few Christmas booklets have any ideas or tasks anymore. Often, they seem directly discouraging,” writes Hierman.

However, Finn Arnesen, who has written Bladkompaniet‘s 75-year anniversary book “From Rudolf Muus to Margit Sandemoe” (1990), has a different view of them. “Only the most narrow-minded intellectual aristocrats would say that what has been reading material and leisure for a large part of the population is not worth bothering with,” he writes in his preface.

Norwegian Christmas Booklets (Julehefter)
Bringing up Father (Finbeck og Fia).

It is difficult to say how many Christmas booklets have been published in Norway over the years. It depends on how you calculate. There is, for example, a smooth transition between Christmas booklets and Christmas issues. If you count all Christmas issues that are identical in content and appearance to Christmas booklets, it could perhaps be around 800 titles and 20 – 30,000 copies. Brenne has looked through the entire National Library of Norway‘s collection. Some Christmas booklets only came with one vintage, while, for example, Norsk Barneblad‘s Juletre has passed one hundred years.

In his book, Brenne has tried to systematize and give a review of the most important Christmas booklets, but far from all.

Norwegian Christmas booklets (Julehefter), based on the introduction in his book. Translated into English by Tor Kjolberg. Published by permission by the author.

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