Keeping the Christmas Traditions

Most of our Christmas traditions come from my Norwegian Gram and Swedish Grandpa J. - my Dad's parents.  I'm not sure we have any traditions from my Mom's side of the family because her Mom died when she was 15 so we never experienced their German Christmas celebrations.  I'm sad that I never asked about their German traditions before my Mom died.

My Gram J. was an amazing person.  She was always in motion and especially during the holidays.  She would make Swedish sausage using a cow's horn to stuff the casings with ground beef, ground pork, potatoes, onions and seasonings.  Her thumb was short and broad and very useful as she stuffed many sausages that we would devour on Christmas eve.  Homemade buns were another of her specialties and that baked sausage tasted so good wrapped in one of those buns that was buttered and spread with red jam.  Some of us stayed away from the baked lutefisk but those who ate it drizzled melted butter with onions over the top.  Her meatballs were so good and didn't contain any weird spices.  Lingonberries were served in a crystal dish.  There was always a wooden dish filled with mixed nuts in the shell with nut crackers and a pick.

The cookies were so plentiful...rosettes deep fried and covered with powdered sugar, krumkake rolled and dusted with powdered sugar, spritz of every color and sprinkled with colored sugars, refrigerator cookies with walnuts, fattigman deep fried to perfection, sandbakkels made in tiny silver tins and filled with some yummy filling, thumbprint cookies filled with jam, Russian teacakes, candy cane cookies, frosted sugar cookie cutouts, date cookies, pinwheels and other favorites.  The cookies were kept in all sorts of tins in the back hall that started at the top floor and ended at the basement level. It wasn't heated and kept anything stored there nice and cold in the winter.

Their Victorian style house had three floors with a small attic.  Families lived on each family of four (included my brother and I at that time) lived upstairs, Gram and Grandpa lived on the main floor and my Aunt and Uncle and eventually their five boys lived downstairs.  It was built on a hill so the lower level opened out to the backyard.  A dear friend who had immigrated from Norway, Randolph, rented a room on that lower level also.  When Gram wanted him to come up to eat with us, we would stomp on the floor in her bedroom and then he would come upstairs.  I always thought that was so much fun! 

Many years after my Grandpa died, Gram married Randolph and he moved upstairs.  It was a full house and my Dad and his brother were able to live there when they were first married and starting out.  When we moved to our new house, Uncle Earl's family moved up to the top floor.  It was a great way to begin and eventually each brother saved up and moved to a new house.

So on Christmas Eve, we all would gather at Gram's.  It was a house that was filled with wonderful smells that permeated the main front hall and invited us in to the festivities.  The sparkling tree with multi-colored lights stood in the front picture window.  The ornaments were plentiful - some antiques with isinglass windows in little red lanterns, silver multifaceted glass shapes, red felt Santa's, big round shiny balls - some decorated with shapes cut out of red tape, icicles, and tinsel and of course, the handmade paper snowflake ornaments from her grandkids. 

Our tree with spun glass Angel on top!
Gram had cupboards filled with dishes - tea cups in one, a pedestal ruby glass candy dish, silver platters, dishes and candlesticks, pink depression glass serving pieces, and oh so many gorgeous dishes and her good china in a small mahogany hutch that I watched over until recently.  Her special dishes with lots of pink roses and gold rims were always on the table at Christmas. 

Her mahogany Duncan Phyfe table with all the leaves added with matching and mismatching chairs, filled the dining room and we all sat together at that table with her good china and good silverware and candles all aglow. When the family grew to include my sister and another cousin or two we had a kids' table stuffed between the adult table and the stove that heated her house.  I still have the wicker rocker that sometimes managed to smash the glass of her teacup cupboard that sat next to the stove.  I think I get my collecting obsession from Gram!  I have her tea cups and the same cupboard that has had its glass replaced quite a few times.

All of the kids were so excited not only for the presents but just to be together with my Dad singing his carols and cajoling us to join in with him.  I remember  when my sister was about 3 years old, she would put a black olive on each finger tip and eat them off one at a time.  The windows were all steamed up from the previous days of cooking and from the crowd of people all in our Christmas finery.  We were almost shoulder to shoulder in her small living area.  But it never seemed crowded - it always seemed just right.

Once we finished eating and were filled beyond capacity, the dishes had to be washed before the presents were opened.  I'm not sure of the year it happened but the boys and men were relegated to the dish pan.  So the pressure was on to get everything cleaned up so we could pass out the gifts.  The gifts were always very special - something I had wished for or had written down on a list.  Santa always came to our house on Christmas morning with more gifts. 

Usually we went to church before we went to Gram's but if we didn't, there was a midnight church service.  I remember how difficult it was to keep my eyes open.  It was always cold and the snow had been shoveled so high to keep the sidewalks clear.   The candlelight service brought the meaning of Christmas to us in a magical atmosphere with the stained glass windows shimmering in the darkness of the church.  After all the activities and family fellowship, this was the perfect ending to the birthday celebration of Jesus.

And I think of all the pans and dishes used in the preparation of these feasts with no dishwasher!  We still make the Swedish sausage but now there are 8+ people who work to make sausage.  Granted we do make over 80# of sausage but instead of the stuffing horn, we recently purchased an electric grinder/stuffer machine to do lots of the work for us.  Well - the cookie part - we don't even get close to the kinds of cookies Gram made all by herself for weeks I imagine.  My Dad still loves lutefisk...the only one who does, but he goes out for the stinky fish!

Such were the labors of love that were involved in our Christmas traditions.  Our memorable traditions are even more memorable as I get older.  I am so thankful for all those memories.  Now its up to me with the help of my two daughters to keep as many of those traditions alive in our family.  I can still see my Gram working at her enamel table in her little kitchen with her decorative plates on the aqua walls making special treats for her loving family.  I hope she's proud of us - sometimes I think I can hear her laugh as we attempt to duplicate her traditional recipes. 

Merry Christmas to all and a special Merry Christmas to our Angels watching over us in this season!



  1. this twice and couldn't hold back my tears either time.

    Wonderful memories, sad that those treasured moments can't stay constant with us each and every year....but they will forever be in our hearts.

    love you

  2. Bonnie what a beautiful post! I love hearing about other people's family traditions, especially when it comes to the Holidays. Being newly married makes me think about traditions that I experienced as a child, and which of those traditions I want to someday pass on to my children, as well as new traditions that I would like to start.

  3. I really enjoyed your memories. They brought back my memories of the Swedish celebrations, especially all those cookies. I'm with your dad, though, I love lutefisk.

  4. My husband is actually at one of our good friend's house today having a traditional Norwegian bake day! His Norwegian friend has a bunch of buys over and they drink and bake all day!

  5. have fun.
    whatever i'm doing,
    do it with a good attitude.
    if it happens,
    it was meant to happen.
    always have fun.
    be angry,
    get over it,
    and have fun.

    ^^my philosophy on life.
    just for you.
    because you said you couldn't read it.

  6. Dear Bonnie,

    Thanks for charring your treasured memories with us.

    One of my memories is decorating the Christmas tree with my Dad (my Mom never did the trimming, bud she made the best “Weihnachtsgans” (Christmas goose) in the world.

    Have a nice autumn season (Christmas is just around the corner… :))

    Take care

    Bettina from Berlin (Germany)


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