Christmas is a nostalgic time, and today I’m finding myself remembering things from my childhood years. As most of you know, I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, where the December wind chills go well below zero and the snow drifts up so high that it covers the barn. We used to go sledding off of that barn. My brothers would try to build up the snow into a turn, kind of like a luge tunnel, so that as we came down off of the barn we would hit it and fly up along the side. It never worked the way they had hoped. Still, the sledding was good fun.
We would bundle up into many layers of clothes to go outside and play. Only our eyes and hair were exposed to the cold, and that would frost over. Marla’s jet black hair went white, and Shane's eyelashes, which were very long and thick, would frost over to the point where I wondered if he could see. Makes me laugh to think of it now.
We had our own traditional dinner on Christmas Eve – spare ribs and lutefisk. It was something that my dad grew up with, a Norwegian thing I guess. Lutefisk is an old Norwegian food that is brutally awful. It’s cod fish soaked in lye for preservation. Well, that’s how they made it 100 years ago. I don’t know that it’s still soaked in lye now that society should know better, but whatever they do to treat the cod does not improve it. But my dad covers it in melted butter and eats like the happiest man alive, so Mom bakes it up every year. The rest of us stuck to the ribs and potatoes and everything else.
Of course, dinner had to wait until Dad and my brothers were done with the outside chores, which included feeding and watering the animals, getting them some clean straw, and then whatever else Dad could come up with. I swear he made the chores last so much longer than usual on that particular night. Then they’d come in, looking like Eskimos frozen over, strip out of their giant parkas and scarves and sweaters and hats and the top two layers of pants, just as Mom, my sister and I were finishing with the dinner table. Mom would get out her china and pretty crystal glasses. I always loved that.
We opened presents from my grandparents and aunts and uncles on Christmas Eve. My mom’s side of the family is small. She has one sister, who has one daughter, who is about 20 years older than me. So when my siblings and I were kids, we were the only kids that that family had, and they treated us right! We had a pile of packages that spread out for a foot away from the tree. All of them were ours on Christmas Eve. But, not until dinner was cleaned up – absolutely cleaned up, which took forever.
My mom had decorative candles all over the living room. Some were for Christmas; others were left out all year. While Mom and Dad were lingering over the dishes, I would get the matches and light every one, then sit in front of the lit tree and feel the glow of all of those soft lights. Thinking about it now makes me go all soft inside, and I can almost feel the warmth of being at home on Christmas Eve.
Opening the presents was pandemonium – a frenzy of flying paper. We sat nicely enough while the presents were sorted and passed around, but as soon as we were given the go ahead, all self restraint was gone. It was awesome.
Christmas morning was the same scene all over again with our presents from Santa Claus. I remember one gift in particular. Weeks earlier, Mom and I were in a store that sold a lot of nick-knacks, and I saw two little figures, a boy and a girl kneeling in prayer. He had on blue pajamas, and hers were red. They were small, maybe an inch tall, and had sweet, chubby little faces, and I really wanted them. That Christmas morning, there was a small little box for me under the tree, and in it were my praying children. They sat on my dresser all of my growing up years. Sometimes they acted as babies for my Barbie dolls. And now, 30 years later, I have them on my bookshelf alongside some family pictures.
There’s one more thing that I always think of when remembering Christmas at home – the angel on the tree. She’s beautiful. She’s about six inches tall with a gold dress that flares out wide at the bottom and golden hair, and she’s holding a tiny book of carols that she’s singing out of. I used to play with her as Mom strung the lights on the tree. We’d fly around the living room. And when all the other decorations were on, we’d set her in her place of honor at the top of the tree. I sometimes would try to twist one of the lights around so that it would shine on her just right. I’ve got dibs on that angel. It’s in bad taste to talk about when Mom and Dad are gone, especially at Christmas time. But still, I’m putting this in writing right now. The angel is mine.
Over the years we all grew up and spread out all over the country. Of course we did, it’s only natural. Mom and Dad have sold the farm and live in a little town called Moorhead, MN. I was there last year for Christmas along with my youngest brother and his family. We ate spare ribs, and watched Dad eat lutefisk, and opened presents on Christmas Eve. My angel was there to watch over us, like she’s always been. It was wonderful. This year, after much trial and tribulation, I decided that I couldn’t spend the money on an airline ticket, and so am staying here. All of my Utah siblings and their families are doing the same, so I’ve got people to be with, and I love those people, so it’s good. It’s good, too, to remember home – the place I come from, the place that formed who I am today. I miss it. I think that next year, if I’m still on my own, I’ll be sure to go back to Minnesota. And maybe I’ll sneak that angel into my suitcase. Even with my claim now in writing, I can’t be too sure.
Merry, Merry Christmas! May your homes be filled with love and warmth and everything that's good this year.