Family Traditions

by Cynthia Bergsbaken Photography

Every Christmas Eve when I was a young child, we used to travel to my grandparents’ house for our traditional Swedish meal of Lutefisk.  I was introduced to Lutefisk when I was maybe 4 years old.  I remember entering in to my grandparents’ back door which entered directly in to the kitchen.  As soon as I opened the door, tropical air hit me.  From all the Christmas baking and cooking, the house was filled with hot, humid air that was entangled with the wonderful smells of Christmas that I knew.  I slowly walked through the kitchen, witnessing my aunts washing dishes and setting tables.  Seeking a cooler, calmer atmosphere, I quickly went down the steep, narrow steps to the basement.  I was curious to see what my grandparents had in their storage room, so I entered in through the doorway.  I walked by a large utility sink, noticing large Lutefisk fillets soaking in water. To my left, I quietly looked at Grandma’s canning shelf.  She had jars and jars of bottled blueberries all covered in juice.  Yum, I could taste their juicy, sweet berry flavors in my mouth.  I noticed the large chest freezer.  I walked over to it and opened it up just to take a peak.  Wow, Grandma had lots and lots of freezer Raspberry jam, Swedish Rye bread, and meat.  I started walking out of the room when I heard my Grandma come down the stairs to grab the Lutefisk.  Every time my Grandma and Grandpa would have a relative over, my Grandma would grab a loaf of Swedish Rye bread and some Raspberry jam to give to the relative.  We all really loved her Raspberry jam and her Swedish Rye bread. 
I left the basement, only to be greeted by relatives, elbow to elbow, standing in the kitchen.  I managed to squeeze through, making my way to the Front-room.  As I walked in to the Front-room, I was greeted with the most fantastic sight.  At the end of the room, stood a 5-foot-high Christmas tree, decorated fully.  Beneath the tree were Christmas gifts that made their way half way up the tree!  Wow, I wondered how many were mine.  As I stood there, I could smell the Bayberry candle, burning.  The smell of the Bayberry candle brings many joyful memories back to me, even as a young child. 
I walked back in to the kitchen, squeezing behind each relative talking over old news and new news.  The noise level was a steady hum of cheerful voices, laughing and talking.  Standing away from all the relatives next to a wall, I watched Grandma place several Lutefisk fillets in to the oven.  She dotted each fillet with salt, pepper, and butter.  In no time, the fish was lacing its traditional odor in the air, signaling it was time to sit down to dinner.  There were tables set up in the front room next to the Christmas tree, there was one in the kitchen, and all the rest of the tables were set up in the basement.  When all my relatives gathered for Christmas Eve, we had at least one hundred people, or it seemed that way.  I watched my great Uncles and Uncles fill their dinner plates with heaping of Lutefisk.  They added melted butter, cream sauce, salt, and pepper to the top of their fish.  I watched them continually scoop Lutefisk in to their mouths, rarely taking a breath in between it seemed.  It was their mission, to eat as much of this traditional fish as they could.   In our family, we only ate Lutefisk once a year, Christmas Eve.  When I was 4 years old, I was introduced to Lutefisk.  I tried 2 forks full of fish.  That was all I could stomach.  In order to enjoy Lutefisk, one must start eating it every year at a young age. At an early age, I was taught not to eat the mushy fish.  Only pick out the firm fish.  The mushy stuff was pretty bad to have in your mouth.
Grandma served us Sweet Rye bread, peas, boiled potatoes, eggnog, White sauce, melted butter, herring, Thuringer meat and Swedish meatballs for the Christmas Eve dinner.  The Swedish meatballs were for the non-Swedish people who did not care for Lutefisk.    For dessert, we would eat the large assortment of Christmas cookies all my relatives and Grandma had made.  Sitting around the tables, I remember the great Uncles bringing up old-time Swedish stories that were meant to be told only amongst family. 
Soon after the meal, my Aunts would help Grandma wash and dry dishes.  The rest of us retired back in to the front-room, patiently waiting to open presents.  I was so excited about the gifts.  I wondered how many I would receive.  Waiting, I noticed jars of my Aunt Jane’s Pickled Beets sitting next to all the boxed presents.  Every year my Aunt Jane would make these Pickled Beets from her garden with the help of my Uncle.  And every year, they would give size quart jars of these Pickled Beets as presents to the rest of the relatives.  Being young, I did not care much for Pickled Beets, but I’m sure they were good and made with love.  My Uncle Kade would make his specialty for all to have, Fantasy Fudge.  The fudge was really creamy and sooo good.  Through-out the year, my Grandma would knit mitts and slippers for every relative.  She made the best slippers and mitts.  Why?  Her mitts and slippers were so dense and thick, my hands never got cold from the cold, snow or wind.  She had an awesome gift and she shared it with all of us with no expectations. 
It’s time!  I’ve been waiting all night to open the gifts.  Gifts were handed out in a speedy fashion.  At the end, I had received one gift.  I slowly opened it with my excitement mounting.  It’s a red book!  I turned it over and to my pleasant surprise it was a Betty Crocker cookbook from my Grandpa and Grandma.  My very first cookbook!  Now I was truly a real cook, owning my own cookbook.
A Christmas memory.

Family traditions bind our families together through time, space, and love.  They bring us closer to the ancestors we never knew, sharing something in common.  Traditions provide us with loving memories of our families/relatives who have gone on to the next world.  Traditions provide us with something to look forward to every year.  Traditions bring us closer to our families. 
If we do not have traditions to follow, then maybe it’s time to make traditions that the family can follow.  Just don’t forget how important our family traditions can be for each generation to follow, look forward to and celebrate. 
Merry Christmas!
Here’s to celebrating the love we share with our families, relatives, and ancestors.
Written by Cynthia Bergsbaken of Reiki in the Prairie LLC
Written for The Perceptive Blogger
December 18, 2018

***All original content is copyrighted by Cynthia Bergsbaken, Perceptive Blogger & Reiki in the Prairie LLC.
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April 11, 2020
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Reiki in the Prairie LLC, April 11, 2020


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