It’s that wonderful time of the year filled with traditions

Published 6:00am Sunday, December 15, 2013

Column: Woods & Water, by Dick Herfindahl

Once again it seems as if the Christmas holiday has come roaring down the home stretch like a runaway locomotive. Not to say that I haven’t been aware of it. In fact, most of my gift shopping is pretty much done. After my first few years of marriage to Jean, I realized my taste in women’s clothes was not the same as hers, but for the first few Christmases I persisted in trying to buy that perfect outfit for my significant other — only to have her return it shortly after Christmas. I eventually gave up the clothing idea and moved on in my quest to find that ideal gift.

I will soon be going to my sister Judy’s house for our traditional lefse-making day. We do this each year, and it has become tradition that we make the lefse at her house, and I host Christmas Eve at mine. As Christmas Eve approaches, I will have to start trolling the aisles of the local grocery store to snag a few pounds of that mouth-watering delicacy known as lutefisk. I usually buy the fish about three days ahead of time and soak it in water for three days. This is the tradition I grew up with because the fish used to be packed in lye for preservation before shipping. I still soak the fish because to me it seems to be more firm and flaky when I do that, but in reality it’s probably just a Norwegian not wanting to break with tradition.

In past years, I’ve written about Christmas past and growing up as a boy of Norwegian descent. Each year, our family visited both sides on Christmas Eve. My dad’s side always had the gathering on Christmas Eve, and so would my mother’s side. I have to believe there were attempts to move one to Christmas Day, but being strong-willed Norwegian families, no one would budge. When it was time for the festivities to begin, we would load our gifts in the car and head to the Herfindahl side for lutefisk, lefse and all the trimmings. Now this in itself was always a fun experience for a young boy because there were treats of all kinds I would only get to experience at this time of year. After the feast, we would get to the one event us kids had been waiting for: The opening of gifts. After the gifts were unwrapped and the gift givers were properly thanked, it was time to get Dad to tear himself away and head to my Mom’s side for the other half of Christmas Eve.

Once we arrived at the farm — which was just a few blocks from our house on Hammer Road — we would arrive just in the nick of time for the unwrapping of presents. I can still hear my aunt Millie saying, “Just what I wanted” about every gift she opened. Now my Uncle Orv and Aunt Millie let their kids open all of their gifts on Christmas Eve, which I always suspected were to show everyone what nice things they were given. There were footballs, sweaters with reindeer on them, games, wagons, dolls and the one thing that a kid wanted to unwrap least at Christmas: More clothes. Now all of their children were quite a bit older than I was, so I jumped at any opportunity to be included in any of the games that they played. One of the best parts of Christmas at the farm was all of the treats that a kid could pretty much graze non-stop on. I can still see the quart bottles of Tom Moore soda sitting on the counter by the kitchen sink. There was root beer, orange soda and ginger ale, and I made sure I sampled them all, usually coming back to the root beer in the end. Once the festivities at the farm came to a close, we’d load the car and head home. After I had settled into bed for the night with visions of Santa dancing in my head, dad would usually drive back to my grandma’s for more visiting, and I suspect a little more Christmas cheer.

I don’t believe I can ever recall a more peaceful feeling than driving through town with my folks on Christmas Eve. It seemed like there were lights on almost every house in those days, and seeing those lights — even as a kid — reminded me of why we celebrate Christmas.

On Dec. 19, our family will be tuned in to the show Jeopardy, which airs on channel 3 at 4:30 p.m., to watch my niece Jenna Johnson. She is from Minneapolis and flew out to California to tape the show. Jenna is a 4-year graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL and is presently attending the University of Minnesota law school. She isn’t allowed to tell us how she did, so we are excited to see how it turned out.

Until next time, have a very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers during this holiday season because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.