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Dick Herfindahl: It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner, and in an unusual turn of events, I am pretty much done shopping, and with time to spare. It seems like for the past few years I had been getting progressively slower on my shopping. For whatever reason, this year, I have actually been on top of the shopping and will be right on track for our family Christmas, which our family celebrates on Christmas Eve.

This year, my wife and I are passing the Christmas torch to my son Brad and daughter-in-law Miranda. By passing the torch, I mean that Jean and I will no longer be hosting Christmas Eve. It’s kind of sad in a way, but it is time to pass on the tradition.

I can remember helping my mother put up the Christmas decorations inside of our small, but cozy house. I don’t know if I was a lot of help, but helping her decorate always put me in the Christmas spirit. We may not have had much, but the way my mother decorated our house at Christmas time always made it seem warm and cozy.

As a kid growing up with two Norwegian parents, I found that tradition and family were the things that mattered most on this holiday. When Christmas did finally arrive, we usually went to my dad’s side first on Christmas Eve and later on to uncle Orv’s; my mom’s brother. My mother’s side held Christmas up at the farm, which was only a couple of blocks from our house. They would hold the present opening until we arrived and then everyone would tear into it. I can still hear my aunt Millie saying “juuuust what I waaaanted,” after every present that she opened. The old farm house where my mother’s side celebrated Christmas each year still stands on the north side of town near the corner of Grand Avenue and Hammer Road.

At Grandma Herfindahl’s, the main course was always the dreaded lutefisk. Now I don’t know, nor have I ever known, any kid in his right mind that was ever counting the days until he or she could eat the fish. My grandma and aunts always had side dishes like meatballs and of course all the trimmings. This was food for the non-fish eaters. We also had buttered pieces of lefse rolled up with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on it. Us kids considered this a real treat back in those days. I wonder where that tradition has gone?

Once the fish was on the table and the traditional Norwegian prayer was said, my dad and my uncles would begin the ritual of getting ready to eat the fish. Uncle Ben would roll up his sleeves, and dad and uncle Oliver would follow suit. They then commenced to put potatoes (they always used boiled-not mashed) and fish on a lefse and pour melted butter over it and then salted and peppered the heck out of it, this would round out the delicacy. A perfect lefse had to be thick enough to hold the fish but not so thick that it was doughy.

Every year uncle Ben would turn to me and ask if I was going to eat some fish like a true Norwegian. Now I had eaten my share of fish before, but it never smelled like that unless it had died on the stringer and had been dragged around the lake on a hot July afternoon.

One year, in a moment of weakness, I finally gave in reasoning that eating something that smelled that bad was the price a kid had to pay to get to the main event (present opening). In looking back on that fateful night, it was actually my right of passage to the adult table. I can still hear Uncle Lloyd saying, like he did every year at this time, “I sure would like to eat some of that fish, but I have a bad stomach, you know.” In some way that excuse always seemed a little fishy to me.

I don’t know at exactly what age I had actually decided to become a real Norske but once I took the plunge, I never looked back. As I have grown older, I actually looked forward to Christmas, knowing full well that I will proudly be partaking in the ritual of eating the fish. It doesn’t smell any better than it ever did, but I look forward to eating it at least a couple of times during the holidays.

My dad always said that you weren’t eating it right unless you roll it up, pick it up and bite into it while the butter runs down your arm. Thus, being the reason for my dad and uncles rolling up their sleeves before feasting on this Norwegian delicacy. I have yet to pass the tradition on to both of my sons, but Brad, my youngest, does eat it, while Brian, his older brother, is stubbornly holding out and has no interest in being a traditionalist when it comes to this fine Norwegian palate-pleaser. None of the grandsons have shown any interest, but my 10-year-old granddaughter Emma, in a moment of weakness, a couple of years ago, asked if she could have some and ate it plain’ plucking a piece right out of the bowl, eating it and pleasantly surprised me by coming back to ask for more. Uffda!

Last year Emma didn’t seem all that excited about eating any of that tasty fish that we Norwegians hold so dear to our pallets.

Until next time, I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years!

Please take some time during the holiday season to honor those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms  we enjoy today. Also take a little extra time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who have served and those troops that are serving today.