This is the time of year when most of the stores you may go into have that pleasant aroma of cinnamon and pine floating through the air, giving one a warm cozy feeling that can only be experienced at this special time of the year. Christmas music can be heard playing almost everywhere you go and I really do love Christmas music, choirs singing and, to me, the sound of little children singing Christmas carols is always something special. Top it off with a little snowfall on Christmas Eve, which the kid in me longs for, and this is the season called Christmas. We must never forget the real reason that we celebrate it each year.
Looking back at my youth I can remember the excitement of going to town during this joyous season, looking in the various store fronts and having that feeling of excitement that only a kid can get when anticipating Christmas. It really wasn’t Christmas until the Santa in the Skinner Chamberlain Department Store window was up and waving at passersby. The lights of the downtown were strung across the street in an exciting display of colors.
I was a little disappointed the other evening when I happened to drive through the downtown area after dark. With all of the nice improvements that have been made to our downtown, instead of the bright, colorful lights that once adorned Broadway, there are now what seem to be token blue and white lights decorating only part of the downtown. This almost made it seem as if I were in a Batman movie driving through the streets of Gotham City. Maybe I am old-fashioned and not up with the times, but it just doesn’t seem like the season without a little color.
When I was a kid I can remember the excitement of Friday, which used to be the big night for shopping, especially at Christmas time. Somewhere along the way someone decided that Thursday night would also be a good night to stay open late during the holidays. I can remember looking at the corner box on the front page of the Tribune to see when that magical day called Christmas would be upon us. As I got older and had a family of my own the little box on the front page took on a different meaning. All of a sudden my wife and I were responsible for making sure our little ones had a good Christmas. That was quite a change from my youth when all I did was sit back and dream about the toys I hoped to be getting. Looking back at the days of my youth there were a few lean years when Santa couldn’t put much of anything under the tree, but that never made it any less exciting because we had a close-knit family, which more than made up for not having a lot of material things.
My mother would wrap Christmas presents on the old ironing board which she would set up in her beauty shop at home. I would be allowed to help, which I thought was a pretty big deal. I waited patiently for the time when she would tell me to leave the room because that’s when I knew there must be a present that she was wrapping for me! There was a no touch-no shake rule when it came to a present with your name on it. This however didn’t stop a kid from making a quick weight and volume check when nobody was around.
I have always loved the many special smells of Christmas like that of pine from a real Christmas tree, candles scented with cinnamon and even the dreaded lutefisk as it was boiling on the stove. When it came time to eat I really didn’t give the fish too much thought as long as I was one of the kids sitting at a different table. Once I was old enough and brave enough to sample the first bite of my Norwegian heritage, things changed. I was anointed as a true Scandinavian fish eater and welcomed to the main table.
There was this one Christmas early on I remember clearly because we were spending Christmas Eve, like always, at my Grandpa and Grandma Herfindahl’s on Bridge Street. Christmas Eve not only meant presents but all of the wonderful goodies that were there for a kid to graze on. That evening Santa came to pay us a visit and us kids were excited to see him of course ,but for some reason to me he sounded an awful lot like Uncle Benny who was mysteriously absent from the event. We received some presents from Santa and to question it any further, even at a young age, would be looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.
I’ll soon be trolling through the grocery store aisles in search of the elusive “lute” and most likely its cousins herring and oyster. A true Norwegian just has to have the fish for Christmas and we always top off our family gatherings with a bowl of oyster stew.
My father-in-law, Orville Johnson, would start off the lutefisk season at Thanksgiving and continue it on through the New Year. Although I like the “magic fish” I only have it at Christmas and maybe a couple of times after before shelving it for another year; I just don’t want to get too much of a good thing.
Some naysayers may want to know how you could possibly “spoil” lutefisk, but if you want it flaky there is a trick. Years ago it was shipped in salt brine and had to be soaked for a few days to get rid of the excess salt and lye. I still soak it for about two or three days which seems to make it firm up nicely when cooking. If you don’t cook it just right it can turn to jelly and, although it couldn’t possibly ruin the taste, that quivering jelly-like glob of fish is just not as appealing to eat.
Until next time, I wish you all a very “Merry Christmas” and a joyous New Year.
Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers, especially during the holiday season. They are the reason that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.