Family traditions are important. They bind one generation to the next. Growing up on the farm in Central Minnesota I have many fond memories of our family’s Christmas traditions.
The Christmas season always began several Saturday’s before the big day, with Sunday School Christmas program practice. I was never chosen to be Mary the mother of Jesus, but I did always have a speaking part and worked very hard to memorize my Bible verses.
My mother usually sewed my sister and I Christmas dresses for the program. They were usually of velvet and lace and were beautiful. Then, there was the exciting trip to town to buy black patent leather shoes to go with the white lace tights that were always too short in the crotch. I still love getting new shoes and hate wearing tights.
On the evening of the Sunday school program the church was all filled to the rafters. The lit candles illuminated the church’s huge jewel colored stained glass windows making the sanctuary seem magical. The children in all of their finery would march down the center aisle and file into line on the steps in the front of the church. As they turned around in their spot many a child experienced their first bout of stage fright. I know I did.
The program always began with the hymn “Silent Night” and ended with “Joy to the World”. As the children exited they each received a gift from the church of a small plastic nativity scene ornament for the tree at home, and a brown paper bag of treats that were mostly peanuts in the shell and hard Christmas candy. I liked the fruity candy not so much the spicy ones.
Then it was home through the white wintery world to have a holiday dinner with relatives of several generations. Our Christmas dinners consisted of Lute Fisk, boiled potatoes and white sauce, cranberries and desserts. If you didn’t like Lute Fisk, your other option was Tony’s pizza.
After the meal was over like clockwork, car after car would come down our long driveway. It was our neighbors the Mennonites. Several of their families came every year and would stand out in the snow in the glow of the yard light with the big red barn as a backdrop and serenade our family with Christmas carols. They had such beautiful voices.
At the end of the evening on Christmas Eve it was time to open gifts. I don’t remember very many gifts that I received; however do remember how the candle lights reflected like diamonds off of all of my grandparent’s and great uncles and aunts’ glasses. I remember the laughter at Uncle Ing and Ed’s stories and their Swedish accents. I can still see the big colored lights on the Christmas tree. I still bake many of the home baked treats brought to share by my great aunts Hilda, Esther, Olive, Anna, Agda, Amanda and Doris. I will never forget the smell of lutefisk.
Christmas isn’t about accumulating stuff any more than life is. It’s all about loving people. God teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. God loves all people. That is why God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
This Christmas season take time to remember the most important tradition of the Christmas season is to share the promise of God’s love and tell the story of the birth of baby Jesus the Messiah. It really isn’t Christmas without it.
Grandmother Esther’s Butter Cookies
These rich buttery rolled out cookies are a holiday classic. Cut them into any desired shape, then let the kids decorate them with their favorite icings and sprinkles.
Cream together in a large mixing bowl:
1 cup soft butter
½ cup sugar
3 teaspoons of vanilla or almond extract
Sift together and stir in until dough forms:
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Chill the dough.
On a lightly floured board or counter top roll chilled dough out until about 1/8 inches thick. Cut into desired shapes, bells, stars, Christmas trees, snowpeople etc…
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes until lightly browned.
Cool completely, then, frost with your favorite icing and decorate with sprinkles.
Yields about 7 dozen 2 inch cookies.