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Readers share Christmas memories

Christmas is filled with traditions and memories for everyone. Whether it is sledding at Grandpa and Grandma's house, homemade Pound Puppies or baking goodies, this is the time of the year most people look forward to.

Here are a few favorite traditions and memories from people throughout the area.

Brenda Houts

Christmas is such a time of memories and traditions. From baking the favorite Christmas cookies, picking out the best present, getting to see all my nephews and nieces.

It is so hard to pick just one. My favorite story that I love to hear told is the one about my youngest son Zachary.

When he was about 6, his grandmother told him a story about the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. You know the one about the sad looking little pine tree. Zach, not quite understanding the story, went out and cut down a plain old cottonwood branch.

With his chest puffed out full of pride he proudly walked up to Grandma's with his Charlie Brown tree. Grandma laughed and cried at the same time.

Since that year, she has always tried to have a "Charlie Brown (branch) tree" decorated for Zach.

Judy Jacobs

Christmas is always such a busy time of year that sometimes we forget the real reason for the season.

Since the time my sons were little boys, we would have a birthday cake at each Christmas meal that had "Happy Birthday Jesus" on it. We'd sing and blow out the candles (four of them -- one for each Sunday in Advent) before our meal.

Now my sons are adults and we still honor that tradition. I think it helps our family put the "Christ' back in Christmas.

Michelle Jameson

When I was a little girl, my great-grandma would call us and tell us about a Christmas show to watch. We would watch the show together, each at our own homes. Less than a minute after the end of the show, my great-grandma would call and we would talk about the Christmas specials.

Now, as a parent, I sit and watch the same shows as I did back then. So, every year when I watch "Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman," I remember my great-grandma. Although she lived far away, my memories are of the love we shared, not the distance between.

As most of us can relate, when you purchase a toy, you need to include the batteries. My son, who was 3 at the time, had been playing with his new Christmas toys (after we installed the batteries of course). Eventually, we had to interrupt his play to attend Christmas Day mass.

He saw a statue of Jesus and waved but was saddened by the absences of a return response. After some thought, he looked at me and said, "Jesus must be out of batteries!"

Jennifer Doll

As a kid, getting a tree from the woods at home was always an adventure. Finding just the right one and then decorating it was a big event for us. Mom would have the Christmas music blaring and the grand finale was Dad putting the angel on top of the tree after chores were done.

Mark Hagen

Every year for the last 62 years, on the first Sunday in December, there has been a tree lighting ceremony in New York. Not at the well-known Rockefeller Center, but on Park Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It started in 1944 to honor soldiers killed in action during World War II. Last year, while on a trip to New York, my wife and I attended this comparatively small event.

It begins shortly after dark with the crowd singing the Christmas carols we have known since childhood. An orchestra led the singing. We shared camaraderie and closeness with these supposedly hardened New Yorkers, an experience not often found in New York City.

Sipping hot chocolate in the cold clear winter air made us think of how much people the world over are the same. As the singing drew to a close, a bugler stepped out on the portico of the church and played TAPS to an absolutely silent crowd. Then a minister said a prayer for the soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq along with the firefighters and police officers from New York City who had given there lives in the line of duty.

When he was done the lights on hundreds of trees stretching for close over two miles all the way into Mid Town Manhattan were lit.

As the group dispersed, there was warmth to the evening. A feeling of closeness that we were sharing a tradition that started with a small donation and has grown into an annual event to remember those who protect us.

Holly Heisserer

My favorite Christmas memory is the year of Christmas 1980, when my son, Nick, was 2 weeks old on Christmas Eve. We had him dressed up in a little Santa sleeper, and we put him under the Christmas tree for a picture and he cried the whole time. Needless to say, the pictures weren't the greatest but the memories are always with us. He was our first child, and we were the "new parents." Wow, did we have a lot to learn!

Michelle Bjorgan

My favorite Christmas memory was from Christmas of 2003. Everyone was trying to make Christmas extra special that year since we were told that my Dad would have only two months left to live. Dad was dying of cancer.

Each year previously Dad played Santa Claus for his grandkids. He came through the door is his jolly red Santa suit hollering "Ho, Ho, Ho!" carrying his overflowing black garbage bag full of presents.

Santa was always so thoughtful and always had a beautifully wrapped gift for not only the children but every adult as well; we are never too old to believe in Santa Claus! There was always one extra gift though, and the grandkids would be yelling and yelling for "Papa" to let him know that Santa was here and he had a present for him. But of course none of the grandkids would leave Santa's side in search of Papa.

This year, as well, Dad wanted to play Santa, we tried to discourage him, but we also knew about the stubborn streak he had.

Since Dad wouldn't be able to put the Santa suit on by himself, the children were kept entertained in the other room while a few people snuck away to help. More pillows were gathered to stuff Santa since Dad had lost so much weight.

He came through the door as usual "Ho, Ho, Ho-ing" but the walk was slower, the breathing deeper, and instead of Santa pulling each of the children onto his lap, he sat in the easy chair with the bag of presents in front of him to ease the burden of picking up the children.

The children never noticed the changes. They were excited to get the gift that Santa gave them, they still hollered for Papa to come and get his present, still not wanting to lose site of Santa, and they still didn't realize that Papa always showed up after Santa was gone with excuses of where he had been.

It took us twice as long to open gifts that year. We all sat back and enjoyed the energy and excitement from the children instead, smiling with tears in our eyes when they would run with a favorite present to show Papa or Grandma.

That was Dad's last Christmas; he passed away three weeks later surrounded by family. Dad taught us that Christmas wasn't about presents and material things; it was about the memories that we create together as a family. It is a time to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Connie Johnson

For years, we have participated in the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child ministry. We have filled shoeboxes with hygiene supplies, toys, socks and such for children who are the same ages that our children are. The millions of shoeboxes are then distributed worldwide through Samaritan's Purse.

Preparing the shoeboxes with our kids is a good way to teach them to give and reminds them how blessed they are. One year we were surprised to receive a thank-you letter and photo from a child in Macedonia who had received one of our boxes. That was cool. I had to find Macedonia on the globe because I wasn't exactly sure where it was.

It was a great blessing to be in Russia adopting our son when the shoeboxes were delivered to the orphanage he had called "home." It made a great impact on us knowing that the little red and green shoeboxes filled with treasures really got to the children and that the gospel was being shared with the children as part of the distribution process.

I know that we will continue this tradition. The cost and effort is so little to us, but it means so much to the children who receive them.

David Henke

My favorite Christmas tradition is actually a post-Thanksgiving tradition. My family and I drive out to a tree farm near Vergas and chop down a Christmas tree that we've chosen.

Carol Nustad

My favorite time was being at my grandmother and grandfather's house. One favorite memory involved the Christmas tree. As they got older, my grandmother decided to get an artificial tree.

The really "cool" ones then were the aluminum ones with a rotating light that shown on them. We were the only ones in the neighborhood to have such a unique tree. I loved decorating that tree with her and setting up the manger scene beneath it.

I inherited her ornaments and, as I put them on the tree each Christmas, I think of her and what wonderful memories she made for me and our whole family.

Armand Radke

Our tradition is threefold: We put up as many lights outside our house as we can until I either blow the breaker or my neighbors complain that their TVs are dim, Mari does a Christmas program with the Summit Dancers, and we always go to our elderly friend's house to celebrate early Christmas with as many desserts as possible.

Dan Josephson

My favorite Christmas tradition is getting together with family, having the traditional Scandinavian meal items like Swedish meatballs, potato sausage and lutefisk.

The best part of the meal is the discussion of the lutefisk. It always seems that no matter how many years my mother or grandmothers have been making lutefisk for Christmas, there is always some conversation of whether it needs to be soaked and for how long, how to cook it and by what method bake, boil, microwave.... Should it be served plain or should it be served in cream sauce?

After the arrival of the Christmas treat there seems to be the same questions. Is it done? Is it good? Is this how your mother makes it? Why do we always have that nasty smelling stuff?

For some, it is always a novelty and some people do enjoy it. I, for one, enjoy the meal and even prepared it for myself and a couple friends at college. I am not sure if the neighbors approved, but they dealt with it.

Vicki Marthaler

So many memories of Christmas revolve around the delightful ways of children. Children have a way of creating joy and sustaining frazzled adults who are trying to survive the holidays.

I remember a "frazzling" Christmas season years ago when I was determined to have the "perfect " Christmas.

My extensive Christmas "to do" list was weighing on my shoulders. Gifts to buy and get in the mail. Gifts to buy and wrap. Cards to write. Practices for the Christmas programs at school and church were penciled in numerous times on the calendar. And, oh, there were many, many different kinds of cookies to bake. Mix all this with the regular routine of a household with two boys, ages 3 and 5, and it was obvious that there would never be enough hours in a day. But I was determined.

I had dedicated a day for baking cookies but the boys wanted to decorate the tree instead. The tree was up and the lights were on but not one decoration yet hung on its boughs. Each of the boys had his own box of ornaments and they were itching to begin to create a sensationally decorated Christmas tree.

Mid-morning they wore me down with their sincere "ppppp-lllll-eeee-aaa-ssss-eeee, Mom-my" and I was surprised that when I consented to put down the spoon full of batter to begin the tree decorating that the boys insisted that they do it themselves.

Fully confident in their abilities, they didn't need a mom hovering about giving them orders on where to hang ornaments. I hesitated only a moment and then left them to their chore, happy to get back to my schedule and the cookies that needed my attention. Lost in the world of measuring cups and recipes, I only half noted the squeals of laughter and the affirming comments coming from the living room: "That looks great!" "Good job!" "Oh, nice..."

A time later, when the last of the baked cookies were cooling on the rack and the last bowl was being washed, the boys ran breathless into the kitchen with shrieks of "Mommy, come and see! Mommy, come and see!" I was half-expecting to see the tree on the floor, but when I rounded the corner and caught my first glimpse of the tree, I found the tree hadn't fallen but rather was exquisitely decorated, or at least the bottom half was.

As far as the arms of little boys could reach, there were ornaments on the boughs of our Christmas tree. Homemade ornaments of Popsicle sticks painted red and glued together in a star fashion with a splash of glitter twinkled in the light of the tree bulbs. Paper ornaments made from a Christmas cutout book graced many a branch.

Heirloom ornaments gifted from grandparents swayed precariously on the end of the spiky arms of the tree while brightly colored round "fill-in" ball ornaments were stuffed deep inside by the trunk. With complete dedication, the boys had used every single ornament and the bottom of the tree was ladened like an Aladdin's cave full of treasure. The top half of the tree, however, was as bare as bare could be.

The boys were jumping and clapping their hands around me shouting "Isn't it boo-ti-ful!" I had to suppress my first impulse to say out loud "But it's only half decorated."

I looked down at my boys who were oblivious to the fact that only half the job was done. They were busy dragging me closer and showing me where they had hung this one and that one. They were so proud.

I got down on my knees to give them hugs and thank them for helping get ready for Christmas. I was also mentally planning on how to rearrange the ornaments when they were asleep so the tree could look "perfect." And that is when Christmas happened for me....

From my vantage spot as I knelt on the floor, I looked up at the tree and lo and behold, it looked complete and beautiful. Those naked branches on the top weren't a problem at all! It was a splendid sight!

And maybe that is how every Christmas should be -- on bended knee and looking up. On our knees, we get a different perspective and maybe, just maybe, Christmas is complete and whole and wonderful and perfect when through the eyes of a child we see Christmas.

Dave Hochhalter

As a child one of my favorite memories was the Christmas that my two brothers and I received a Tonka dump truck, Tonka road grader, Tonka bulldozer and a Tonka scoop shovel. We had just moved from rural Bismarck to within the city of Bismarck and our family was going through some tough financial times, yet they found a way to make three boys very happy.

As a parent, one of my favorite memories was the Christmas that Santa came to my wife Betty's parents home and our 3-year-old daughter, Dawn, sat on Santa's lap and looked at Santa and said, "Santa, you have a watch exactly like my Daddy's."

As a grandparent, I look on top of our TV and see a small plastic sleigh and reindeer, which belonged to my parents, and I remember every Christmas I came home to my parents I made note of that small sleigh, and now I tell the story of that sleigh and reindeer to my children, grandchildren and friends.

As a husband, my favorite Christmas memory was the 1969 Christmas when my wife, Betty, and I announced our engagement to our parents.

Betty Hochhalter

One of my favorite Christmas memories was the Christmas I found a toy Viewmaster in a closet. It was just what I wanted for Christmas, and, to my surprise, it was what Santa delivered to me on Christmas a few days later. Needless to say, I asked my mom about the Viewmaster and she had to share Santa's secret.

Another favorite memory was that every Christmas Eve I would go with my mom, dad and sisters to the church service. They always had a stocking of goodies for the children.

Kimberly Bultema

In 1974, after my dad's sister died in October, my mom's parents decided to host Christmas Eve dinner for everyone in hopes to bring some joy back to the family. My grandma, Hazel, made spare ribs with a special sauce. It has been a family tradition ever since.

On Christmas Day, we would go to my grandparents for supper and to open presents. Santa would always bring us pajamas, and then my sisters and I would stay over night.

Becky Anderson

One of my favorite Christmas memories is something that my family and I do every year. We have a gingerbread house contest and we get into teams of four and build our houses. We get a bunch of "supplies" to decorate and some special frosting with good "hold," and then we had my grandpa, who sat in the garage, come in and vote on whose he thought was the best.

My family is a little competitive so we are always trying to spy and steal ideas from each other, but it's great family time, and lots of planning for my grandma.

I also just recently got engaged, so that is a pretty exciting Christmas memory.

Angie Lehmann

I have many happy memories of Christmas, starting from when I was little and always anxious for Santa to come to our house. We always had a tradition of going to my father's side on Christmas Eve, where there were at least 10 grandchildren all huddled around the tree with their gifts trying to get a picture.

Then we would have to wait for Grandpa to get done with the farm chores so we could all open the gifts. Grandma was very good at making Pound Puppies and Cabbage Patch Dolls. Those are the gifts that I cherish because they came from her hands.

Afterwards, we would go home and we would always ask if Santa had visited our house while we were out. The next morning we would go to church and then open Santa's gifts and off to my mother's side for Christmas dinner where we got to see another 10 or more cousins.

My husband has always put a lot of thought into his gifts. There was one year he got me a Kitchen Aid, which helps me remember this story every time I bake. This was prior to our engagement and you know how everyone asks that famous question "when are you two getting married?" He had gone to Fargo shopping for rings with his friend, and he picked one out but didn't buy it because of the price.

He had trouble convincing me one day, but eventually did, that he needed to go to Fargo to pick up more items by himself. He drove in bad weather to go to the jewelry store, and the lady at the counter knew right away that he wanted the other ring. A few weeks after Christmas, my husband proposed to me. He wanted to make sure there was a separation between Jesus' birthday and our engagement. And I love him for the way he truly thinks of others and the real meaning of the season.

Liz Harman

My Grandpa William Joy was the fish hatchery manager in Detroit Lakes when I was growing up. One year, the Joy clan planned for Santa to come visit all the kids out at the big house where Grandma and Grandpa lived on Hatchery Hill.

Everyone was in the living room when we heard banging and noise from outside and someone shouted, "It's Santa!" I was petrified and stayed put in that living room while all the other kids ran around inside the house, following the noise from window to window, looking for Santa.

Many years later, I learned it was my Uncle Ronnie who then took off down that big hill on that dark winter night carrying a red flashlight high in the air when he lost his footing and "Rudolf" took a digger in the driveway when flying off with Santa!

Nancy Wichmann

Our family has wonderful Christmas traditions. This one is probably the newest and very special to all of us. My sister-in-law started it about 15 years ago.

On Christmas Eve, once we arrive home from church, before we eat supper and presents are opened, we all gather, big and small, and join hands in a circle.

With the birth of children, marriages, and the passing of parents and loved ones, our family members are ever changing. Each family takes a turn and lights a candle one by one in the center of our table for each of the families represented, whether they are with us or not. That way we welcome the new and remember those that will not be present with us at this special time of year.

Dot Satrom

On a humorous note, my favorite Christmas memory as a child was coming home on a dark Christmas Eve and seeing a red light near our house. My goodness, what was it! It was too dark to see much but I think that maybe that red light was Rudolph's nose! Of course, my parents agreed! And when we hurried inside, there were presents under our tree. It had to have been Santa! Oh my ... we almost caught him!

Very quickly, we set to sorting and opening the gifts! And when I opened mine, it was more than I could believe. It was a Miss Revlon doll! And it was just like what I had been eyeing for in the local Johnson store.

There was no doubt in my mind, that red light definitely was Rudolph's nose and Santa had been here for sure.

Years later, my parents and I discussed that the red "light" was actually one of the red reflectors on my dad's bulk gas truck.

On a more serious note, my favorite Christmas traditions/memories as a child is the midnight Christmas Eve services. Although, my dad made sure that the car had been started and the heater was turned on, we bundled up before piling into the family car. The services didn't really start at midnight, more like 10:30 p.m., but by the time the service was finished and greetings had been exchanged it either was or nearly was midnight. We listened to the Christmas story and sang all of my favorite carols. I'm quite certain that the tree nearly touched the ceiling. They always used the big colored light bulbs (to this day the blue ones are my favorite) and lots of tinsel to make it sparkle.

The advent wreath was huge and seemed to have been fashioned by hand. And the feeling of anticipation when the ushers turned out the lights signaling the lighting of the candles and the closing carol, "Silent Night," slowly making their way row by row until they finally came to our pew and I was able to hold a real candle and "pass the light."

I could only nod "yes" to the whispers of "be careful, don't drip hot wax." And all too soon the carol came to an end, but not before looking up to see the entire church glowing.

Everyone I treasured was here. The faces of family and friends, some smiling and others with tears, brought a deep feeling of oneness shared.

Then with the candles extinguished and the service concluded, we bundled up again and headed home. As we stepped out of the little prairie church, it didn't seem to matter how cold the late night air had become. There was a noticeable stillness in the air, a quiet feeling of peace and tranquility and a warmth from within knowing that we'd experienced the wonder of His love.

Joy Crouch

One year when I was a little girl, my dad lost his job and things were tight at Christmas. There was only one box under the tree, but it was a big one, the size of a hatbox, and beautifully wrapped.

The day it appeared, I shook it and shook it. It was so light for its size that I started questioning my mother, "What can this be? It doesn't weigh anything. I don't think there's anything in it!" And on and on I pestered her, like only a young kid can.

Well, later that day, my mom said, "Just feel that box now." So, I picked it up again, expecting the former weightlessness, but to my surprise, this time it was heavy. Not only that, when I shook it, it clunked, like something heavy inside was falling over and over. Now I was really mystified.

The next morning, my dad came into the kitchen from the back of the house, calling to my mom. "Have you seen my good dress shoes? I have an interview later today, and I can't find them anywhere?" My mom didn't say anything, but she got up quickly and left the table.

That day after school, I started in on what had become my favorite game, trying to figure out what was in this box. Once again I picked it up. It was still heavy, but different. Now the contents didn't shift around so much, but it was definitely much weightier.

Now I was really stumped. That night, my sister's boyfriend came over. He was hardly in the door before he said, "Carolyn, didn't I leave a stack of National Geographics here? I need them back...they're due at the library first thing in the morning and I don't want to have to pay a fine." Once again, I saw my mom quickly disappear into the living room (where our Christmas tree was).

The next day, I picked the package up again...and it was weightless! By this time, I gave up. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

That is, until Christmas morning, when my Mother and Daddy woke me to come in for Christmas. As I came down the hall and turned the corner into the living room, the top of that beautifully wrapped package pushed up, and out looked the most adorable Daschund puppy I had ever seen.

I will always remember the great pains my parents went to give me such a special Christmas surprise on what was a very hard year for them.

Amy Stearns

My favorite Christmas memory is the delight on our kids' faces and their squeals of joy last year when they saw their Santa presents on Christmas morning. They're at the age of true belief and love for Santa. It would be wonderful if they'd never lose that (or at least pretend to me that they'll always believe!).

Brian Smith

Our favorite Christmas tradition has been going and picking out a Christmas tree and cutting them down. We started this with Kim's grandpa and grandma and Kim's mom and dad. With the passing of her grandpa and her mom the last couple of years we continue to carry on the tradition with our two children and hope to continue for many years. What a gift.