Christmas is a holiday with a long history of traditions and coming together as a family. Every year it seems that we move further and further away from the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes it even feels that no one truly has Christmas cheer anymore. As Buddy the Elf says, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” Instead of singing loud, I thought a good way to spread Christmas cheer was to interview members of The Center to talk about past traditions and fond memories they have of Christmases past and present. Because who doesn’t love a good Christmas story?

The first table I sat down at had Norman, Ethel, and Bruce sitting at it. When I asked for a Christmas memory or tradition they wanted to share, Bruce jumped right in with his story. Bruce was raised in Minneapolis and moved here after his childhood. He has noticed that Christmas traditions between farm life and being raised in the city vary greatly. For example, as a kid he remembers taking the street car to downtown Minneapolis on Christmas Eve to look at the lights as a child. The shops downtown would decorate for Christmas and it was truly spectacular.

Ethel then told me about how she grew up on a farm in Nebraska where she spent Christmas at home with family. A Christmas memory that she shared was remembering her Christmas tree. It was just sticks that had green crepe-like paper for leaves. When Christmas was over the tree was closed up and stored away in a chest for the next Christmas. Norman told me how he remembers going to his grandma’s house for Christmas Eve dinner every year. His grandma would wake up at 4am to make pies and the rest of the meal. There would be so many people eating and enjoying each other’s company that they had to take turns eating. Men ate first followed by the children and then finally the women ate.

The second table I joined contained a couple of people but the only one who had a story to tell was Bev Larsen. She remembers that her dad had always talked about how he wanted a pony for Christmas as a kid. Every year he would ask Santa for one but never received one.

After she was married, one Christmas Day, a baby horse walked into his barn. Unfortunately he couldn’t keep it and they had to track down the owner but he did get a horse for Christmas…at least for a few hours.

I joined a third table and met Jim Hussman and Kenny Hanson. Jim Hussman remembers going to church as a family every Christmas Eve growing up. They would get ready and would be getting into the car when his dad would suddenly remember he had forgotten something.

This happened every year. And every year when they got home they would find that Santa had already been there. As he got older he realized this was why his dad had always forgotten something. And another fond memory Jim had was one Christmas Eve, it snowed while they were in church. It was a full moon that Christmas Eve and even though it had snowed, there as absolutely no wind. It was a serene and picturesque scene to see as the family left the church.

Kenny Hanson has many wonderful memories of Christmas and loved ones; and he especially enjoys watching children’s excitement when opening presents. Regarding Christmases past, Kenny grew up on a farm and only remembers maybe getting one gift growing up but Christmas shouldn’t be just about presents. Kenny shared with me that too many of us forget that Christmas should be about Jesus Christ and not about expensive presents. “Remain old fashioned because Jesus is,” he told me.

At another table I met Romaine Wieseler. She didn’t share a past Christmas tradition or story but she shared a current one that means a lot to her. Every year her daughter comes to put up the tree. She will fix the lights and hang up all the decorations. That family time and Christmas tradition is her favorite part of the holiday.

When I went back the second day, I met Diane Nicholson and Janene Cabalka. Diane Nicholson told me about how her grandmother was born on Christmas Eve and then had a daughter who was born on New Year’s Day. For Christmas Eve they would go to her grandma’s house to celebrate her birthday. Then the whole family would attend midnight mass, which is one of Diane’s favorite traditions. Christmas Day morning was spent at home where they would open presents. Then the whole family would go back to her grandma’s for Christmas dinner. Her grandma would make duck and dumplings and ham. And of course there were kolaches. As Diane and others grew up they made their own traditions but Christmas Eve was always separate to celebrate her grandma’s birthday. Diane also remembers how on one Christmas Eve her dad came rushing up to her and the other kids saying he thought he had heard Santa. The kids and her dad ran outside to try to catch Santa but they had just missed him. Her dad told them Santa must be delivering early to make sure to get every kid and they were allowed to open their presents before mass. This was special and Diane remembers it fondly, as it was the first time this had happened. She can still hear the excitement in her dad’s voice when he ran in telling them about Santa.

Janene Cabalka spent Christmas at home with family. But one Christmas that stood out to her was when she was about 10. She remembered going to her mom in a panic because she forgot to tell Santa about a purse she wanted. And even though it’s not exactly a Christmas story, she told me about her husband’s grandpa who came over from Czechoslovakia when he was one-year-old. The farm Janene lived on with her husband was actually homesteaded by his great-grandparents in the Dakota Territory. Her husband’s grandpa remembers one time when a group of Native Americans came to give them some food and that’s all they wanted.

And the last person I met was Mary. Mary spent Christmas Eve with her whole family and then they would have dinner on Christmas Day. She also remembers that her husband would get a young cedar tree every year and she called it their Precious Moments tree.