Christmas with my Minnesota relatives is always great. They do it up big time. My Uncle Mike is like the King of Christmas. He always puts up two trees; one in the family room with all the family ornaments and multi-colored lights, and one white flocked tree in the living room elegantly decorated with only red bulb ornaments, silver tinsel, and red lights. You’ve seen the Christmas village sets from Department 56 I’m sure. Well, I think he has the Christmas metropolis. His burgh is always set up on the top of the old cabinet stereo system (with the tabletop lid you have to lift up to access the record player) and has so many buildings there are actual neighborhoods. Its complete with lighted streetlamps and pedestrians. He makes about 900 varieties of Christmas cookies, some with cool Scandinavian names like krumkake, sandbakkelse (pictured), and fattigman (yes, it took many google searches to figure out how to spell those correctly). He makes these little fried doughnuts that are amazing. All the goodies are locked away in the freezer to be doled out in a controlled manner to prevent my dad and my Uncle Donnie (and me too) from gorging themselves on them all at once. Of course, they know how to beat the security and always end up eating too many anyway.
Besides the sweets, there’s all my dad’s old haunts around Winona, greasy spoons all. Whether its Bloedow’s doughnuts, or Sammy’s pizza, or getting a Jonie burger (Which I never did because it sounded disgusting. Tartar sauce on a burger? Blech!) at Shorty’s. Shorty’s did make unbelievable onion rings though. They were so greasy that if you got them to go, by the time you got home the bag was practically see-through. Mmmmmm, greasy. Then of course there was the Hot Fish Shop before it closed down. And all of this before we even get to Christmas.
Following in the Scandinavian tradition, Christmas Eve is the big night, not Christmas morning. And oh the smorgasbord. Crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms, chowder (if you’re into that sort of thing), finger foods of every kind, cakes and cookies, and other pallette pleasing delights fit for Odin himself. When we just can’t eat anymore, then its time to exchange the gifts…then we eat some more. Its really a glorious time and just talking about it makes me miss it. And makes me hungry.
The last time I was back there was in 2001. It was Jen and my second Christmas together as a married pair and we, along with my parents and sisters, made the trek east hoping for a white Christmas. It was great to have Jen get to know the side of my family that we don’t see too often and having her experience a Bauer Christmas, Minnesota style.
Most of my family back there aren’t the church going type, but whenever we were in town we’d always go to a Christmas Eve service. Sometimes we would go to the Lutheran Church where my dad grew up going or we’d go to the local evangelical church. The year Jen came that’s where we went. It was a pretty full house, probably several hundred people. We sang most of the requisite Christmas carols and began a rousing rendition of Go Tell It On the Mountain. I wager a more boisterous version has never been sung. All the family was really into it, along with the rest of the congregation. At the end of the second verse I was ready to belt out that rollicking chorus, and apparently so was Jen. As the verse ended, “on that blessed Christmas mooooorrrrrrnnnnn,” Jen and I both took in a deep breath, ready to sing out the resounding chorus. “GO…!” we both sang vibrantly, emphatically, cacophonously. I really can’t over emphasize how vivaciously we sang this GO! It was as if we had just discovered this wonderful thing called music and were filled with so much joy we just couldn’t contain oursleves. Ordinarily this would’ve been fine. However, in Winona, Minnesota, apparently, they pause for just one extra beat between the end of the verse and the start of the chorus. Just long enough for two people to sing the word “go” as exuberently as possible all by themselves. I think approximately 432 people in front of us turned to laugh and see who these over-zealous songbirds were. It was a tad embarassing. That was my first, and hopefully last, impromptu Christmas Eve duet.