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Christmas in our Western Home:
The Cultural Work of a Norwegian-American Christmas Annual
Kristin A. Risley
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Among that which our forefathers, the emigrants, took with them to America. . . was Christmas in Norway. [Christmas] had, through a long tradition, taken the shape of a fine festival in home and church. And as such, it left its deep mark in town and country, in our people's hearts and lives. It was therefore rather natural that the emigrants took this with them to their new home and that [Christmas], in much the same form as in the fatherland, entered into life in the western home. Shall we protect the beautiful tree with its many lights, or shall we let it wither and its light go out, as happens with so many things these days?
—Marcus O. Bøckman,
"Jul i Vesterheimen," 1936 1
During the early part of the twentieth-century, when Norwegian-American literature was entering its golden age, Augsburg Publishing House introduced one of its premier publications: the Christmas annual Jul i Vesterheimen ("Christmas in the Western Home"). 2 The lavishly illustrated oversize magazine, published from 1911-1957, offered a wide range of literary genres and styles, including biography, memoir, travel narrative, history, fiction and poetry by Norwegian-American writers. 3 The magazine originally included texts in both English and Norwegian—although Norwegian eventually became the exclusive language of the publication—and was primarily designed for an immigrant or ethnic audience. Given its highly professional and luxurious presentation, its institutional status [End Page 50] as a publication of Augsburg, and its promotion of the ethnic group's literary and other cultural endeavors, Jul i Vesterheimen represents a culmination in the periodical tradition of Norwegian-American publishing. Moreover, the magazine attests to the vital connection between immigrant periodicals and the development and production of immigrant literature in America, as the ethnic press played a key role in the dissemination of literature, the fostering of authorship, and the formation of a "Norwegian-American consciousness." 4
Jul i Vesterheimen serves as a compelling artifact that reflects the concerns of its cultural and historical moment. By the time the magazine began publication in the early decades of the twentieth century, Norwegian-Americans were approaching the centennial of their emigration to the United States—usually dated from the first organized migration of 1825—and had cultivated a place for themselves in the American scene, especially in the Upper Midwest. As a group, Norwegian-Americans had attained a level of economic prosperity and social and linguistic integration that contributed to three important factors in the development of literary activity: first, the rise of a professional class of Norwegian-Americans who held positions of authority and influence, including editors and publishers; second, the growth of a commitment among leaders of the ethnic community to preserve and promote Norwegian culture (as they saw it) in America; and third, the presence of an established ethnic audience to read and support such endeavors, particularly a middle class readership with the leisure and means to support gift books and annuals.
Jul i Vesterheimen arrived on the scene as Augsburg Publishing House entered a period of unprecedented literary activity. By the late nineteenth century, Augsburg had already consolidated its position as the official publisher of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America and would go on to become "the largest Lutheran concern in the publishing field." 5 In the decades to follow, Augsburg would become a leading publisher of Norwegian-American literature as well. This publishing vision, in which Jul i Vesterheimen played a considerable role, owed much to editor and manager Anders M. Sundheim (1861-1945). His commitment to Norwegian-American culture, particularly literary culture, was exemplified by his dedication to Jul i Vesterheimen, and its very pages became the manifestation of his ideals. In a retrospective article about their father, Sundheim's daughters described the magazine as his "dearest work," the "realization...