Dec. 18 , 2006

Dassel men's coffee group shares Christmas memories

By Mary Lee Traut, Dassel
As told to me by the men

It all started with Christmas talk of “yulebukking.”

As housing director/social worker for the Dassel Lakeside Apartments, I have the honor of hosting a Monday morning coffee time for the men who reside at the apartments, the adjacent nursing home, staff (who dare to join us), men from the community who assist with the work, and a number of men who love to stop to enjoy the camaraderie, a cup of coffee, and, of course, sweets.

I asked all those in attendance Dec. 3, “Who enjoyed nuts and candy in their shoes St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, when they were young.”

Only one gentleman had the same tradition. I never found coal in my shoes, not because I was good, but because my family burned wood. I teased the guy who had a similar tradition, as to what he received in his shoes. I was kind, because he makes most of our treats.

Thus, we rolled into Christmas traditions and memories. Although these gentlemen are mostly in their late 70s and 80s, with several in their 90s, they were once someone’s child, and have special memories of those times long ago they still hold dear.

One gentleman from the nursing home said he can remember when his grandmother would fill her apron with “schoondunke,” a German treat I believe.

As a young military man, he was an altar server for Cardinal Spellman, while in Korea at Christmas time. He said, “We used the hood of a jeep for an altar.” He added, “Bob Hope toured at that time.”

Another memory of holidays someone shared was loading wagons with chestnuts. He said, “They were hauled East to be sent abroad for the holiday season.”

This man brought me a handful of chestnuts he found recently; and of course, our singer-on-staff sang “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” to us. The song will have new meaning when I smell my chestnuts roasting.

Several celebrated St. Lucia, with burning candles on a young woman’s head.

Next, the guys remembered the great rice with loganberry sauce. Foods were traditional, with, of course, lutefisk and Swedish meatballs. The smells of all their favorite cookies and breads linger in their memory.

I have not forgotten yulebukking. Most of the men said Christmas decorating was done the week of Dec. 25.

Several said the trees at the church programs were lit with candles held on by clips. And, yes, some started on fire.

In Stockholm Church years back, janitors had a long pole to rescue the candle and branches when the tree caught fire.

One gentleman said the tree in the corner of the room in their house actually started on fire. “They just carried it outside,” he said.

For fun, the men not only went caroling with their churches, they also went sledding and skied with wooden skis. They took the wheels off the buggies, and used them as sleds down the hills, into the trees. Yes, they did occasionally flip, was a comment heard.

One gentleman who is 95 said he still has his wooden toolbox he received when he was about seven years old. He remembers his mother said, “Santa Claus came.” He was at the age of doubt, but he said when he saw the box, “Then I really believed.”

Many men’s memories and traditions centered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with church events and visiting friends taking place in following days.

Now, about yulebukking, of which I looked on the Internet, does exist.

One of the gentlemen, a volunteer, had gone yulebukking when he lived in New London years back.

Some of us thought it was that straw horse the Swedish people like.

He said, “You dress up in costumes so no one recognized you, go out to your friends’ houses, and they treated you with goodies.” He said this socializing took place after Christmas into the New Year.

Ask an elder what their favorite tradition or memory is, and may you be delighted.

The Monday morning men’s group and I wish you all a blessed Christmas.

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