For those who celebrate, the holidays are a special time of merriment, gratitude, giving and family.
Not much beats opening presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the sweet scent of a holiday feast floating dreamily through the air and the endless cups of hot apple cider or eggnog around the tree.
Except if you’re a kid. Then Christmas is absolute magic and our residents are here to prove it. Helen, a centenarian, gives us a glimpse into holidays during the 1920s and 1930s, while Andy, a good seven years Helen’s junior, reminisces about epic card games and reciting the Bohemian prayer from memory.
While times have changed, what endures is how potent the love is this time of year—and that’s a real gift to us all.
Sleigh rides and red mittens
Helen, age 101, lives at Eventide Senior Living Communities in Jamestown, North Dakota, where she enjoys carrying on conversations with her neighbors and Eventide staff members.
Recently, we asked Helen about her childhood experiences during the holidays. What was it like opening gifts nearly a century ago? How had traditions changed? What was the food like?
Turns out, Helen’s Christmas traditions are very much like the ones we celebrate today … with a few exceptions.
“We traveled to Grandma and Grandpa’s every year, rotating between the Perleburgs and Wahls each year,” Helen said. “We got there in a 4-horse-drawn sleigh.”
Once everyone arrived safely, including a few favorite cousins, the children would feign ignorance when one uncle would “mysteriously disappear” for a while and Santa would arrive in his place.
“We’d wait for one to go away and that way we knew who was the Santa that year,” Helen said. “The only time I got stumped was when a neighbor filled in for the uncles one year.”
Helen anticipated her grandmother’s chocolate pudding, a special-occasion treat she remembers the taste of to this day. “It was a real treat,” she said.
Also a real treat: the best gift she ever received, which happened to be a pair of red mittens her father gave her when she was 12. “That was in 1934,” Helen said.
Helen’s red mittens warm our hearts as much as they must have warmed her hands.
Ham and homemade bread
Andy, age 94, lives at Eventide Jamestown. He remembers big family parties on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas.
“We’d always say the Bohemian Prayer as a family when the night was coming to an end,” Andy said. “I can still recite it from memory.”
Andy remembers big parties where family and friends got together and enjoyed his mother’s “famous” ham and homemade bread. After bellies were full, parties would gather around the house, and in the parlor where groups played endless card games and simply enjoyed one another’s company.
“It was a big party,” he said.
Lolly and lutefisk
Lolly, who lives at Eventide Fargo Care Center, remembers many holidays before their family had electricity or running water in the house.
“I grew up on a farm outside of Hawley, Minn.,” she said. “So we would put candles on the Christmas tree, which you couldn’t burn very long, else you might burn the house down!”
Lolly’s holidays commenced without any serious fire incidents, and her family decorated the tree while playing Christmas carols on the cassette.
“My favorites were Jingle Bells and Away in a Manger.”
Lolly’s favorite holiday dinner? Lutefisk soaked in lye, a buttery delicacy familiar to so many Minnesota families.
“It was one of my favorite meals,” she said.
After cleaning their lutefisk plates, Lolly’s mother fried lefse on the wood stove. “We always put butter and sugar on top before we rolled them up and ate them,” Lolly said.
Strudels and knoephla
Catherine, who lives at The Linden in Moorhead, remembers having the “best Christmases” when she was a kid. “There were 14 kids in my family and it was nothing fancy, but we had a tree and all the food we wanted, like strudels and knoephla and we’d go to midnight church service.”
Singing carols together
“We would all get together and sing Christmas carols,” said Ivy, who lives at The Linden in Moorhead. “My dad would play the accordion and my sister the piano. My favorite was always O Holy Night.”
Mark, who also lives at The Linden, remembers fondly having fish on Christmas, but not the Midwest favorite lutefisk. “My uncle lived in Seattle and he would send us fresh salmon on the Greyhound bus!”
Here’s to more memories
At Eventide, we hope you enjoyed reading about some of our residents’ favorite holiday memories. We also wish you the happiest of holidays this season and may your new year be blessed with health, happiness and life at its best!