Your Unconventional Holiday Stories: Part 3

December 19, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In the spirit of Bill Morelock's holiday special, 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette, we've asked you to share your own unconventional holiday memories.

We've enjoyed reading your submissions. Today we present the third collection of your holiday stories.

Kay Gagner

Clear Lake, Wis.

Kay shares a memory that will resonate with classical music listeners. At age seven, Kay had been rehearsing to play "Joy To The World" on her violin at the Christmas Eve service at her family's rural church. Kay also shares that, because it was the church's tradition to light candles while singing "Silent Night" at the end of the service, unlit candles were handed out beforehand. How could unlit candles pose a problem? Kay tells us how:

"My mother, a music instructor, warned me not to let the candles near my violin bow because the wax would wipe the rosin off my bow. (It is impossible to play without rosin — it gives the hairs on the bow traction and makes the strings vibrate.) But being seven, I didn't pay much attention to this, and my brother and I had swordfight-type duels with the candles and my bow, and we had a lot of fun — at least until I went up to the front of the church to play. My mother sat down at the piano and played the introduction to the accompanying part for me. No matter how I tried, I couldn't make a sound on my violin. After trying a few times to start 'Joy to the World' but with no results, I just lowered my head and walked back to my seat with my consoling mother.

"That is all I remember about the service. After the weeks of playing 'Joy to the World' over and over and then getting up in front of a full church and not making a sound, I have not liked that particular carol since."

Judith Weir

St. Paul, Minn.

Judith's family's tradition is to cut their own Christmas tree. One Christmas during the 1980s, they picked a winner:

"We took the grandchildren with us to a new field. We found a wonderful tree, cut it, and then discovered it was too heavy for us two women to load on top of our car. The 4- and 8-year-old kids were no help in this. We all stood around shivering for probably 20 minutes — which seemed like hours — until a strapping teenage fellow came by and helped hoist it onto the roof. Our car disappeared under the tree. There were branches covering all the windows except the windshield and part of the driver's side window. We were a spectacle as we drove very slowly down 35E back toward St. Paul.

"We got the tree up in the living room all right, but in the middle of the night with a big thump that shook the whole house, it fell over. I called my son-in-law to come put it back up. He moved it and tied it with rope to the window frame. Voilà! The biggest Christmas tree we've ever had."

Nancy Mastenbrook


Some toys and games indicate recommended ages for use. Many times this is to protect small children from hurting themselves, but it turns out older kids could benefit from heeding the top-end age limit on such items. Nancy tells us why:

"About 1969 or 70, all my cousins came to our home in Minnesota City. Among them was a 2- or 3-year-old girl, the daughter of a cousin. Her present was a red, rubber Hoppity Horse toy. Her uncles, who were in their late teens and early 20s and should have known better, were bouncing on it at about 11 p.m. Christmas Eve, when all of a sudden — BOOM!!! Red rubber everywhere."

Helen Heitz


We've heard about some family customs in these stories. Helen shares a family custom that makes a game of dessert:

"On Christmas Eve, my mother made individual cranberry Jell-O salads and stuck a candle in each one. At the start of dinner, we lit the candles and turned out the lights. The last person with a lit candle was the winner; if it was standing, that was a bonus — and a possible tie-breaker.

"Prizes ranged from applause to a candle to a monkey carved out of a coconut (or some other white-elephant gift). There were often guests; sometimes there were 15 or 20 at dinner. They were occasionally bemused at first, but they joined in the game and sometimes they won!"

Bonnie Kamel

Bonnie says Christmas isn't her holiday, but her most memorable Christmas was the one she spent with a college roommate who lived in Thief River Falls, Minn.:

"On Christmas, my roommate's mom made each of us our own apple pie and homemade lefse. Church was only an hour (a shock for me comparing Jewish holiday services), and then the best part: All the gifts were homemade. Sister and brother exchanged gifts they made for one another, mom knitted gifts, dad made gifts. I was always put off by the commercialism, and here I witnessed a simple, meaningful Christmas.

"Oh, and not to forget the ice cream liquor drinks we made in the blender."

Carol Soderquist

Burnsville, Minn.

Carol recalls a Christmas in 1967, when she was teaching at a college in the rural, southern Philippines:

"Adjusting to life there was a challenge, but Christmas was especially different. The temps were in the 80s and 90s, and of course, no Christmas trees were available.

"The market did have some green sticks with what looked like bottle brushes sticking out horizontally from the sides. A Filipino student who lived with us helped me whip up Ivory flakes to look like snow, which we put on the "branches." Forty years later, this student visited us in Pennsylvania, and saw real evergreens with real snow, and said, 'Oh, that's how they should look!'"

We'll publish more of your unconventional holiday memories tomorrow. In case you missed them, you can read Tuesday's stories here and Wednesday's stories here.

On Thursday, Dec. 19, you can hear a special Music with Minnesotans at 5 p.m., featuring more of these holiday recollections. Then on Friday at 7 p.m., Bill Morelock will once again host his 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette special.

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