Weekly Bulletin Column

From Fr. Michael Reding

December 22, 2019

 

 

This week, in the spirit of the season, I want to share with you a reflection called Once Again it is Christmas, written by former Minnesota Governor, Wendell Anderson, that appeared in Redbook magazine in 1976. For me, a Minnesota boy who grew up among thousands of Swedish-Americans in Red Wing, it seems like only yesterday:

…My brothers, Orv and Rod, and I grew up on the East Side of St. Paul. In those days people tended to think of the East Side as almost a separate community, so closely knit were the Polish, Italian, Irish, and Scandinavian families who then inhabited the area. And so we shared our school time and playtime with boys and girls who on Sundays went to churches with names like St. Casimir’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Ambrose, and Gustavus Adolphus.

For us the best part of the week before Christmas – besides the fact that school was out – was ice hockey. We played it in the morning, we played it in the afternoon, and we played it in the evening when we could. We shoveled and flooded the outdoor rink constantly at Phalen Park, across the street from our house. This was a required job in our part of Minnesota if we wanted to keep the ice smooth.

As we grew older we had to give up part of our skating and hockey time to earn money shoveling snow or bagging groceries or helping to deliver Christmas mail. But some of the best times we had, even then, were spent in front of the red-hot, potbellied stove in the Phalen Park warming house, thawing out amid the fumes of steaming wet clothing and swapping dreams about our brilliant hockey futures.

Of course, there was more to Christmas than hockey. Our family Christmas customs were rooted largely in Swedish traditions that my grandparents brought with them to Minnesota in the 1890s. Our Swedish history goes back hundreds of years, and we share this heritage with many Minnesotans; the customs of the Swedes and their Scandinavian brethren are a part of the Christmas celebrations of most of us.

Christmas week was a time of intense activity in our home, most of it related to baking Christmas goodies and taking care of last-minute shopping. There was the annual trip to Olson’s Swedish meat market for lutefisk, an ocean fish preserved in lye. It was chosen with care from large barrels in the store and brought home to be prepared for dinner on Christmas Eve. There was the trip to Jacobson’s bakery for cinnamon toast, Swedish rye bread, and their special Christmas cake, julekage. And there was the trip to the YMCA lot for the selection of a Christmas tree – an annual ordeal for my dad. Mother was particular about the shape and the condition of the tree but she never went along to pick it out. So it was necessary to worry all the way home, where she reluctantly gave her approval to our selection.

Then there was the church Christmas program. If you were unlucky, you had to stand up and recite a piece you had struggled to memorize. If you were a little more fortunate, you were chosen instead to be a shepherd – and silent – in the pageant. I still remember the first phrase of a Christmas piece that I was required to memorize and deliver over 30 years ago. I was the first person to speak, and I began: “Once again it is Christmas.”