How do interiors shape our Christmas memories?

How do interiors shape our Christmas memories?

Sync: Our surroundings strengthen our memory and sense of belonging. When we celebrate Christmas, this becomes especially evident.

She lit a new one. Then she sat under the most beautiful Christmas tree. It was larger and more ornate than what she had seen through the glass door of the wealthy merchant, now last July; He stretched out his hands in the air – then the sulfur plug was extinguished. ”

The fairy tale “The Little Girl with the Sulfur Sticks” by H.C. Andersen takes place in the middle of the Christmas holidays on New Year’s Eve. The girl irons the matches she will actually sell, to keep warm instead. Scene after scene describing a Christmas celebration in a room the girl was never a part of, but watched through the window from outside. For her, it’s good rooms. She could clearly imagine how it feels inside, what it smells like, how hot it is and the people in it.

What is home?

The interior of our homes consists not only of floors, walls, and ceilings, but also of furnishings, furniture, objects, pictures, personal belongings, sounds and smells. Combined with us as residents, this creates a home, a little extension of ourselves that gets bodily expression. Home gives us a base and a place where we belong.

The need to create a physical framework around ourselves is fundamental.

Architect and professor of interior architecture, Edward Hollis, believes that interiors play an important role in not only reminding us of who we are or where we are from, but that they remind us of the very act of remembering—memory always begins in the room. The room and the house itself is a place where our past and who we are are expressed in the things we have chosen to surround ourselves with. We also connect the past with the future by being in and experiencing space. It gives us a sense that we are part of a larger whole, and a continuity between us as human beings.

It becomes very clear in us if we lack this rule, as the girl with the sulfur sticks does. The need to create a physical framework around us, whether it is permanent or temporary, and especially in relation to the holiday, is fundamental.

The environment creates memories

Christmas celebrations create a special atmosphere in our homes. The different rooms emit smells and sounds associated with the celebration from the foods we make, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, music, and people gathering. It makes sense to remember something if “there are clues in the situation related to what one has to remember”. When we celebrate Christmas, we repeat a number of traditions and customs every year. Almost all of them are done in the framework of the house. The house, with its content, mood and people, are guides to the memories we create through the actions that take place and the interaction that takes place in or between people in our habits.

For example, by decorating the Christmas tree with the same decoration every year, we reconstruct the memory from the previous years of the Christmas tree. We can put a Christmas tree in Grandma’s living room and attach an event to it, perhaps smelling it or remembering that the same Christmas decorations hang on her tree. In this way a sense of continuity arises and it becomes clear to us where we came from.

A room decorated with Christmas where traditions are repeated is limited and has a special character and atmosphere.

The same thing happens when we look at a house from the outside or visit someone else. We have a frame of reference against which we constantly compare the world around us. We perceive the imprint of others in their own rooms and interpret it towards our history. The girl with the sulfur sticks can still interpret what she sees, with her own frame of reference, even though she may never have experienced it. Her memories are her experiences and they are part of them.

“The Little Girl with the Matchsticks” is a Christmas story, but it also tells about the joy it can create in a room and how important it is for us to need a physical framework around our lives and celebrate Christmas. A room decorated with Christmas where traditions are repeated is limited and has a special character and atmosphere. This helps us to have clear clues that Christmas memories can be linked to.


Andersen, Hans Christian: The little girl with the sulfur sticks. Adventures and stories. 69-72. Copenhagen: Gildendale, 189.

Edward Hollis: The Palace of Memory. London: Portobello Books, 2014 (Abstract)

Jahani Plasma: room, place, room and soul. Klingenberg, Elaine (Editor) Interior Architecture. 164-171. Oslo: Spartacus Forlag AS / Scandinavian Academic Press, 2007.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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