Immigrant pioneers, Norwegians, Germans and the like, brought their tradition to America. Many even carried cherished holiday ornaments in their rope-tied trunks.
Today these nostalgic traditions and reminders of Christmas past live on in the descendants of those early settlers.
Often the ghost of Christmas past guides us on a journey of Christmases now long gone. Many of us can only go home for Christmas in memory. This history lesson goes back only 70 years, but I guess that qualifies as history. So travel with me.
It was Christmas 1938. We had gone to the farm home of my maternal grandparents, which was about 40 miles from the Canadian border.
As we retired for the night, I thought it sounded like cars had pulled into the yard. Then I heard my grandparents get up downstairs. Soon my mother got up, dressed, went downstairs…and never came back. Then my father got up, went downstairs and never came back. Finally, my uncle also went downstairs…and he never came back.
What could be happening? Always being a curious child, I decided to go down the stairs and investigate. My four year old feet padded down the stairs and I opened the stair door. The room was filled with weird looking creatures.
I screamed, slammed the door and ran back upstairs. I jumped into bed and pulled the feather quilts in after me. I thought these monsters had done away with my loved ones and taken over the house!
Suddenly, I heard my mother calling my name and her steps on the stairs. At least she was okay. She sat on my bed, trying to extract me from the quilts I had pulled in after me and over my head. Then she explained:
The people downstairs were the Norwegian Julebukkers (Christmas foolers). They were neighbors who went from house to house, dressed in funny clothes and masks. They remained silent, even when spoken to. You had to guess who they were, then the mask came off and they were given a treat. It was an old custom. The idea was to promote good feeling and fellowship among neighbors and friends during Christmas time.
When the julebukkers came to the last house, they usually expected lunch. So my mother said I should come downstairs with her and meet the people…oh my, she had to be kidding!
Just the night before when I heard howling outside after I went to bed, I went to my parent’s bedroom. I was kind of scared. My mother told me the noise was coyotes talking to each other. They were far, far away, most likely in Canada. So I didn’t have to worry. Well, I didn’t exactly buy that story…so what about this one?
Mother told me grandma was putting cookies on the table. Cookies?? At night?? Well, just maybe I should be a brave four year old girl. So we went downstairs.
By this time the masks and scarves had come off and I could see the people looked somewhat normal. They all wanted to talk to me. But I was on the trail of a huge plate of cookies my grandmother was taking into the dining room.
Later that night, as I was drifting off to sleep with visions of Christmas and cookies dancing in my head, I thought: Well, maybe those coyotes did live in Canada after all.
NEOMA LAKEN is a resident historian living in Breckenridge.