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Ibsens truth about Christmas

Ibsens truth about Christmas

Henrik Ibsen was not very fond of Christmas. “Christmas was for me never a nice time of the year”, he said. In this article you can learn more about Henrik Ibsen and his relationship to Christmas.

The reason is that every year in late November or early December a new drama by Ibsen was released by the publisher in Copenhagen, Gyldendal. Ibsen thought the reviews that followed were not very sympathetic to his work and that put him in a bad mood.

Towards the end of the 1800s, the tradition of sending flowers and Christmas cards to family and friends became common. Ibsens truth - Henrik Ibsen found the tradition annoying and did his best to boycott it.

Ibsens truth about Christmas cards

In a letter dated 5. January 1895 to his dear wife, Suzannah Ibsen, who at the time lived in Germany, he wrote that he had received an immense amount of Christmas and New Year greetings by letters, post cards, telegrams and flowers.

Ibsen was in no rush to answer the greetings. The only proof that Ibsen actually answered some of the Christmas greetings from 1894 was the card he sent to Ingeborg Aas, also known as Gina Oselio. The card is a good example of his dislike of Christmas cards. He sent his business card saying “Dr. Henrik Ibsen” and his address. Ibsen added a sentence saying “thank you very much for the card with wishes of a happy New Year.”

Ibsen in his younger years

When Ibsen was young, there was a different Ibsen s truth - he knew how to enjoy himself at Christmas time. In the 1850s he lived in Bergen, and in the prologue he wrote for a soldiers` ball he encouraged the guests to have fun at the ball.

In the 1860s the dramatist took part in the Christmas celebrations of the Scandinavian Society in Rome. Together with Edvard Grieg he was even member of the organising committee in 1865.

Little is known about what went on at these parties, except for the fact that the guests were given a laurel wreath each to place on their heads.

Christmas party in Germany

After 1868 when the family moved to Germany, it seems like Henrik Ibsen was influenced by the German Christmas preparations with Christmas trees, decorations, Chrismas gifts and small poems. In 1876 Suzannah and Henrik invited the Scandinavians in Munich for a Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve at their home in Scönefeld Strasse 17.

In preparation for the party Henrik Ibsen made decorations for the Christmas tree, bought small gifts and wrote poems in order to entertain the guests. Through the poems the guests could guess what the content of the presents were. In the cases where the name of the recipient was not mentioned, they could guess who the joke was meant for. One of the guests, the painter Mathilde Josephine Smith, probably got a bottle of something strong: “Miss Smith. Dear Miss Smith.Be satisfied with just a bit!”

The poem for Sophie Thommessen said: “Miss Thommessen. Hereby Miss Thommessen is sent a basket,-However, not from an erotic sparrow.” In Norwegian being given the basket is according to old fashioned traditions of wooing, the same as rejecting a suitor.

The amorous boy would send the girl of his choice a basket filled with food and gifts. If the girl kept the basket, the boy could continue his advances towards her. However, if she returned the basket, the boy could start looking elsewhere for a wife.

Ibsens truth - Negative to the commercialisation

Through Nora in “A Doll`s House” (1879) Ibsen`s dissatisfaction with the commercialisation of Christmas becomes evident. For Christmas Nora wants cash wrapped in tin foil and hung up in the Christmas tree. Nora anticipates the new Christmas colours by decorating the Christmas tree with dried, red flowers. According to old German traditions, the Christmas tree was decorated with yellow flowers and figures made of white paper.

In the “The Wild Duck” the reminiscence of earlier Christmas celebrations is very depressing. A forest of dead Christmas trees in the attic reminds us that the Ekdals have celebrated Christmas every year. Some of the trees are flourishing.

However, a sparkling Christmas seems far away from the tragedy that takes place in the Ekdal family. Ibsen was a dramatist and knew what effect the presentation of sad destinies and departure would have on the same day as the family was supposed to come together and celebrate.

(Source: A lecture by Erik Henning Edvardsen)

Ibsens truth about Christmas in his plays

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