This is chapter 20 from Christmas Jelly.
It’s written by one of my favourite people, Erik Pederson. Mr. Erik touched all of us with his love, humour, and smile. He’ll always be missed in Dry Creek.
I encouraged him to write this story and had the privilege of editing it.
A Danish Christmas
By Erik Pederson
One of Dry Creek’s most memorable characters was Erik Pederson. He was a storyteller par excellence who always had a twinkle in his eye. Each Christmas, he’d share this story with me. I badgered him until he wrote it down and entered it in the Beauregard Daily News Christmas Memory Contest. It deservedly won first place.
It’s a reminder of how America is a nation of immigrants, each with our own story to tell.
Of my many memories, the thoughts of my childhood family Christmas celebrations are among my favorites. In our home, we followed the Scandinavian traditions brought by my parents from their native country of Denmark.
Soon after my parents married in Denmark in 1923, they moved to the United States. They lived in Michigan where my father worked for the Pontiac Corporation. Later after I was born, we moved to New York. When I was nine we boarded a Pullman train for a long ride to a new home and life in a place called Lake Charles, Louisiana.
It was here in Southwestern Louisiana that I grew up with my many memories and happy times. Of these times, Christmas was a time I loved best.
Christmas was a special time in our home. On Christmas Eve, my father would place the large Christmas tree in the middle of the living room. As my two sisters and I watched, he would begin attaching white candles on the tree. This was accomplished by using straight pins to pin the candles to the tree limbs. My dad, being an engineer, decorated very carefully and evenly until the tree was filled with white candles.
While my father decorated the tree, Mother was in the kitchen preparing a special meal. When the decorations were finished, we’d sit down as a family for the traditional Danish Christmas supper of baked goose, rice pudding covered with grape juice, and Danish cookies and chocolate delicacies sent as gifts by our European relatives.
In the middle of the table sat a single wrapped present. As each of us looked at it, we silently wished it would be ours. This was the “almond gift.” Mother placed an unshelled almond in the rice pudding. Whichever family member found the almond in their pudding got the present.
As children we didn’t particularly care for the rice pudding, but the gift on the table would motivate anyone to eat it.
I still recall how my parents would both move their first bite of rice pudding around in their mouth as if they had the almond. Eventually someone found the almond in his or her pudding. As we finished the meal, my father would go into the living room and close the door behind him.
As we children helped Mother clean the kitchen, we knew exactly what was happening in the living room. Our dad was lighting the candles on the tree. When he had everything just right, we were allowed in to see the beautiful sight. There we would stand in our darkened living room mesmerized by the brightly illuminated tree. The sight of the green tree in brilliant white light was an unforgettable spectacle.
Dad kept a bucket of water by the tree, but I’m still surprised the candle-lit tree never burned down our house.
After a time of admiration we would form a circle around the tree and begin singing Christmas carols. As we walked around the tree, we sang the familiar songs such as “Silent Night” only we sang them in Danish.
Later as a teenager in Lake Charles, I always made sure the shades were drawn to the living room on Christmas Eve. I didn’t want my friends to drive by and see me walking in a circle singing Danish carols.
At the end of each song, we would eagerly ask to open presents. But my father insisted on singing more songs as we circled the tree. He was a master at dragging out the Christmas Eve traditions.
When we had finally finished all of the songs, he handed out the presents one by one.
When the presents were finally all opened, my father would get out his Bible and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2.
I can still recall him clearing his throat before he started sharing the wonderful story of Jesus’ birth. This is a tradition that he carried out in our extended family until his death. Today in our family, I carry out the tradition of this Bible reading.
Thinking back on these boyhood Christmas memories, I only began appreciating these special traditions when I became an adult. Christmas is still one of my favorite events. I enjoy every part of it.
In my mind I often go back to the “Danish Christmas” of my childhood.