Transferred from Denmark to Sweden in 1814, Norway was granted de-facto autonomy and allowed its own constitution. The authors of this document were influenced by the Enlightenment and the animating ideals of the French Revolution and the American founding. Yet they wrote into their constitution a blanket prohibition on the immigration of Jews. A poet and political radical named Henrik Wergeland would change that. Kenneth Stevens writes:
Of all the many works that Wergeland created, his poem “Christmas Eve” is perhaps the most important—and for good reason. Because he devoted the last fifteen years of his short life to battering at this oaken door: he was determined that the clause [banning Jews] should be repealed. . ..
In “Christmas Eve” a Jew by the name of Old Jacob is wandering from place to place selling a variety of things in order to do little more than survive. It’s Christmas Eve and the weather deteriorates to such an extent that a full blizzard is raging about the old man. . . . [H]e hammers at the door of a house, and those inside wave him away, tell him in no uncertain terms that he will not find shelter with them. . . .
When Old Jacob goes back out into the storm he finds a young child, a little girl. She is one of the daughters of the family that has just sent him on his way. But the poem states that the old man is more affected by the . . . hard-heartedness they have shown him than by the bitter chill of the wind and the snowflakes. He hugs the young girl close to him as the storm worsens and the dark envelops them, but in the morning the family finds both frozen to death.
The ban was lifted in 1851, three years after Henrik Wergeland’s death.