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Dancing around Christmas tree part of Danish tradition still celebrated in Howard Lake

December 1, 2008

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

From making homemade sausage to singing carols, some traditions never change

HOWARD LAKE, MN - Even with the rapidly changing life of today, some Christmas traditions never change, and the Nedegaards of Howard Lake have a lot of them. Click here for recipe of Finnish shortbread.

Mick and Lois Nedegaard are both originally from Askov, MN, a town that at one time was dominated by Danes. Mick lived one mile south of town, while Lois lived two miles north of town.

They both were born at home, just a couple of weeks apart, and the same doctor delivered them. The couple attended the same school in Askov, and started dating their senior year.

While Mick is of Danish descent, Lois is of Swedish descent, but Lois admits that most of the traditions that they celebrate from Mick’s side of the family crossover within the blanket of Scandinavian traditions.

“My grandparents emigrated from Denmark, so Danish foods and traditions were a big part of our Christmas celebration growing up,” Mick said. “We still maintain most of the traditions to this day.”

Those traditions are quite elaborate and involved including a tree lighting ceremony where after the Christmas Eve meal, the women will go into another room while the men light the tree.

Back when Mick was a child, the lights on the tree were candles fastened to the branches by homemade brackets that Mick’s grandfather crafted.

After all the candles were lit, the women would come out of the other room and express how beautiful it was.

“I remember it was a very big deal when I was finally old enough to stay out with the men to help light the tree,” Mick said.

After the tree was lit, “everyone circled the tree, usually in two circles, and danced around the tree singing Christmas carols,” Mick said. “The singing always began with ‘Nu haar vi jul igen,’ a very familiar Danish carol.”

The singing only lasted as long as the candles before they were extinguished.

Christmas preparations always started with the baking of at least 30 dozen cookies.

“My grandmother’s porch was full of cookies, breads, and Danish rolls,” Mick explained.

Cookies such as finsk brød, pebernødder, sugar cookies, brown cookies with almond, spritz, and more were, and continue to be, a staple.

A Danish sausage called medisterpølse was always made before Christmas festivities with Mick’s dad and brothers, and is made by the family to this day.

“We get together with my nephews now and make 200 to 300 pounds of medisterpølse,” Mick said.

“My dad would also build a lighted ice church in our front yard on the farm from ice blocks he cut from our pond in the pasture,” Mick recalled.

After Christmas Eve services, Mick’s family rushed to milk the cows and “slop” the sows before heading to “Bedstefar and Bedstemør’s” (grandpa and grandma’s) house, where numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered as well.

“We always gave the cows a little extra grain on Christmas Eve,” Mick laughed.

Mick’s family has always served an enormous meal on Christmas Eve, and in an orderly fashion.

“The first part of the meal was to serve everyone Ris A’L’Amande (almond rice pudding). There was an almond placed in one of the cups of pudding and whoever got the nut, got a gift. In my 18 years at home, I only got it once,” Mick laughed.

The rest of the meal included, and still includes, mashed potatoes and gravy, roast pork, medisterpølse, cooked rutabagas, rødkaal (cabbage), and other vegetables.

Desert was always æblekage, which is similar to apple crisp.

Christmas Eve was like Christmas Day to Mick’s family because that’s when the children received all of their presents.

“The night usually went into the morning with all the celebrating and visiting,” Mick recalled. “It seems like we could always see the North Star on Christmas Eve, and I was convinced it was the Star of Bethlehem.”

Christmas Day included another big meal for Mick’s family, and a trip to an uncle and aunt’s house for an afternoon of musical performances by family members, and more visiting.

Then the family celebrated a second Christmas Day. This took place at the Danish Brotherhood Society building in Askov.

“The mothers would bring all the children to town for treats such as apples, oranges, nuts, and cookies. We would again all dance around the Christmas tree and hear stories relating to Christmas,” Mick explained.

Today, the Nedegaards continue most of these traditions.

“It’s just so much fun,” Lois said. “In fact, now my brothers and sisters do most of the same things.”

“We just try to have fun with it and pass it on to our kids, and they love it,” she added.


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