Lutefisk and oyster stew were Christmas traditions for many families around Spring Grove in the first half of the 1900s. And Santa visited every year, too. The following Christmas memories were part of an oral history project made possible through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning. In the winter and spring of 1997, six Spring Grove students (representing grades six through 12) studied interviewing techniques and then armed with tape recorders interviewed 13 Spring Grove area community members about growing up in the early 1900s through the 1950s. In a collection of these interviews, there were many cherished childhood memories of the Christmas season.
Lloyd Sanness remembers putting the Christmas tree in the living room, hanging red stockings in the kitchen and eating meatballs, potatoes and gravy for Christmas dinner. The best Christmas present he ever received was “Grandma Nancy” (his wife). Grandma Nancy was Nancy Morken Sanness, who enjoyed Christmas parties “because there was a lot of good food and visiting.”
Pauline Bratland, when asked about celebrations, listed birthdays and an Easter egg hunt. “We had Christmas mostly on Christmas Eve with my family. We would go to grandma and grandpa’s house on Christmas Day.”
Owen Hagen (born 1931) said Christmas was a family event, which included attending a church service on Christmas Day. The holiday menu included lutefisk and lefse, probably enough to enjoy leftovers for a week. “We got a bag of candy from Santa Claus. That was a big day. The last time I remember, he came by helicopter and landed on Main Street in Spring Grove. They had a big truck that was full of candy.”
Hagen’s favorite childhood Christmas gift was a wind-up train. There were no carpets, so he did not put the tracks down. He just ran it on the floor. Another Christmas, he had a really large box and thought he had something truly grand. Inside was a pair of ice skates, but they did not fit, too large. His mother had made a mistake; the skates were intended for his sister.
Audrey Atchison recalled many Christmases. Santa Claus came to visit every year. “We would have family or relatives there and then they would send us (children) upstairs and Santa Claus would come in, and then all of a sudden, mother would yell to us. That was their way of getting us out of the way.”
One gift she received as a child was small black doll, which she said “at that time was unheard of.” Her father brought it back from an oil meeting in Chicago. “Her name was Topsy and that was real meaningful to me. I wish I had it today… I got a beautiful silver-plated bicycle that my dad won as a prize for being the top oil salesman, and that was very meaningful.”
Alma Hagen looked forward to Christmas; Santa Claus always came. There were no Christmas Eve worship services, but the family spent Christmas Eve at home. The evening chores had to be completed early. “We all had baths,” Hagen recalled. “Our Christmas Eve supper was oyster stew and dried beef sandwiches. Everyone was eager to help get the dishes done that night. The first floor of our house was heated through a register on the floor from the basement furnace. My brother and I took turns reading the scripture relating to Christmas from the Book of Luke. We would stand on the grid where it was warm. Then my dad said, “I have to go outside to take care of the horses.” Later, there was a knock on the door. “Ho, Ho, Ho, Santa Claus is here.” We were starry-eyed. Here he came with a bag full of presents. One year, I had the measles on Christmas Eve, so I was in bed.”
Joycelyn (Rud) Rostad, who was a child in the 1940s, remembers getting a camera as a Christmas gift from her parents. “We never had a camera in our house… I got to be the family photographer. I took pictures of everybody’s birthdays and everybody’s Christmases… We got only one Christmas present. I wanted a set of play dishes real bad and so did my sister Darlene. My mom and dad must have gone to town and bought them. I snooped and I found the set of dishes that I was supposed to get. My mom must have known it, because Darlene got the dishes and I didn’t. I never went looking for Christmas presents again. Joycelyn did not remember ever receiving a doll as a present for Christmas or birthday. “We made dolls by rolling up bath towels.”
When Thora (Lommen) Aasum was a child, the family decorated a Christmas tree in the northeast corner of the house. A Christmas wreath was hung and strings of popcorn were made. The family always had a special supper on Christmas Eve, usually consisting of lutefisk, lefse and maybe oyster stew. They did not hang stockings, but Santa Claus came and placed gifts under the tree. The children would open presents later in the evening.
Olga (Myhre) Sanness and her family always decorated the house and Christmas tree. Her holiday responsibilities were making popcorn balls and candy, wrapping gifts, decorating the tree and making strings from popcorn. The festivities included her cousins who lived nearby. Gifts were given after a meal of oyster stew. Some of the Christmas gifts she remembered were mittens, caps, scarves, sleds, skis, dolls, books, pens, pencils, stationery, card games, candy, socks and jewelry.
Unless you were in bed with measles, Christmas Eve was a wonderful, special time with family, Santa Claus, lutefisk and/or oyster stew.
Source: “Yesteryears of Spring Grove” (1997)