July 19th…“DURING YOUR CHILDHOOD IN MINNESOTA, WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY AND WHY?”
Wrapped in the gentle folds of dream-kissed snowflakes, Christmas, by far, was my most beloved Holiday of the entire year as I grew up on our farm near Kiester, Minnesota. Even the very word “holiday” is special! And you know why? It is formed from two words, “HOLY” and “DAY”. To be holy is to be separate from sin, to be special before God. Without a doubt, Christmas was so very special to this little farm boy during our wonderful holiday season.
Even before the Sears Christmas catalog went “kerplop” on our farm kitchen table, I was already entranced with all the elements that made this grand season begin to percolate happiness in my little boy heart and soul.
My “Cheshire Cat” grin was only too evident on our family photo Christmas card that year. Likely, I was musing on how I could be the first one to grab that Sears catalog when our family got back home from the photographer’s studio. That way, I could soak in more joy of the season and the toys that I dreamed about having for my very own. That dear “wish book” had been drooled over so many times that the pages were “dog-eared” (folded over) and worn from hours of happy hoping that we’d get something new to play with when Christmas Eve finally arrived.
Be it the innate immaturity that accompanies childhood, or the virile imagination station that permeates each child’s mind; either way, it was hard for me to feign happiness when our family elders (with good heart, of course) would tantalize me with a Christmas package of splashy paper and bows. My momentary thrill to receive that present was chilled when I’d rip open that fancy wrapped gift only to find a practical gift of socks, handkerchief…..or worse yet……UNDERWEAR for Christmas. Goodness gracious, how my little boy shock would set in!! 😉
I guess the good Lord used these practical gift moments as a form of spiritual calisthenics to strengthen my childish heart in maturing towards adulthood and learning the lesson that it’s not WHAT one receives for Christmas, but appreciating the love inside someone’s heart that caused them to WANT to give you a loving (and practical) gift in the first place.
The rich pine fragrance of our family Christmas tree each year saturated our humble farm house with the perfume of a seasonal evergreen cologne. Out came boxes of sparkling, colored Christmas ornaments that soon bedazzled us as they hung from those scented evergreen branches. Each lovely ornament was nestled among the “silver rain” of dainty strands of aluminum tinsel hanging from each evergreen bough. Lighter than air, it was a pleasure to see that tinsel as it floated with the slightest breeze when someone walked by the tree.
Unlike the frenetic and staccato-crazed Christmas lights of today’s world, my childhood Christmas tree was bedecked with the most gently placid colored orbs in a spectra of peaceful hues. These tapered glass cones of primary colors not only set off the beauty of the hanging decorations, but also spoke to my little boy heart, as if saying, “Be at peace little one. Enjoy the tenderness and tranquility of this holy season”.
With our dairy herd of Holstein cows milked for the evening, our father, brother Lowell and yours truly would douse the barn lights and head towards the house for supper. Along the way, we’d glance down to watch our winter rubber boots “plow” their way through new, fluffy snow. With each step we made, the amber glow coming across the snow from the windows of our home bid us a “welcome in” feeling. After peeling off layers of winter jackets and boots, we’d wash hands and gather around our warm kitchen table for supper. With Mom’s tasty meal warmly in our tummies, our family would disperse into evening activities of television, listening to radio, reading or schoolwork. With Christmas nearing, day by day, I would often saunter into our nighttime Living Room and enjoy this Christmas season and our wondrous Christmas tree from a “new angle”.
Seeing myself as an elf, I decided to pass away the evening by laying down on my back, with my head near the periphery of the Christmas tree’s branches. Then, with my body barely fitting under the bottom branches, I used my feet to push my little boy body under the tree while my shoulder blades “walked” me till I was fully under the Juletre (pronounced “yoolehtreh”….the Norwegian word for Christmas Tree). The Living Room lights had been turned off so that only the Christmas tree’s luminaire were setting the room aglow in all their quiet glory. Now, from my lowboy perspective, I looked upward into the heart of that Christmas tree and became lost in my new world of primary colors shining through the frosted glass of these string lights. Each item, that was hung on that tree, possessed a placid, mystical wonderment all its own as I gazed on the loveliness that paralleled the loveliness of what Christmas was all about in the first place………..our world was heralding the yearly anniversary of our Lord and Savior’s birth.
For those of us blessed to grow up on the farmlands of Minnesota, Christmas joys were accentuated each year by a pristine blanket of snow across our part of the world. Bundled against the chill of that snow, we climbed into our family car and would drive across the frozen roads to our maternal grandparent’s home in Albert Lea, Minnesota. The cottage of our Norwegian elders was tiny in construction, but within resided a giant warmth that exuded from our “parents who were grand”. With layers of winter jackets and boots removed, our Scandinavian family exchanged hugs and greetings and would then settle into Grandpa and Grandma Sletten’s Living Room to watch the evening snowfall outside their large multi-paned window. Our beloved Grandma Amanda always saw that we were amply fed with a tasty meal and her delightful delicacies of Lefse and Kringla. Lefse is a soft flatbread made from potatoes that is most often buttered, sugared, then rolled up and eaten with delight. Kringla is a type of sweet cookie with a flat bottom that was also often slathered with sweet creamery butter and/or jam n jelly.
Evening shadows soon became darkness as the pleasant drone of adult conversations emanated from our grandparent’s cozy Living Room. I would quietly step into the darkened entry of that happy abode and step up on a chair to gaze into the glow of a tiny, plastic, illuminated church that resided upon my grandparent’s windowsill. Tiny as those stained-glass church windows were, I could imagine an even tinier congregation of saints inside singing Christmas carols and praising God for the greatest gift of His Son to us here at this holy season of the year. Yes, no matter what we received from gifts that were wrapped with brightly colored paper and bows, the greatest gift each Christmas was the gift of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ to this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.