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The Christmas card queen
DEC. 19, 2011
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1969 CHS grad makes elaborate Christmas cards a tradition

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

If you’re not on Sue (Mattson) Johnson’s Christmas card mailing list, you might want to get on it just to see what she has in store for her family in 2012.

“I never tell what the next card is going to be – not even my mother,” the 1969 Cokato High School graduate said of her mom, Isabelle Mattson of Cokato.

For 18 years, Johnson, of Eagan, has been coming up with themes for her annual Christmas cards, which sometimes appear to her in a dream, she told NBC’s “TODAY” reporter Kevin Tibbles during a segment that aired Wednesday. “Or my husband calls them nightmares,” she said with a laugh.

Her Christmas cards have become a tradition, not only for her family, but those on the receiving end, as well.

“It’s a lot of pressure now, but it’s fun,” Sue said, knowing her Christmas card recipients are often eager to see what costumes the Johnsons will be wearing on their annual Christmas card.

Dressing up in costume – whether it be a toy soldier, Santa’s elves, or light bulbs – it’s become tradition for the Johnson family.

“It’s a memory we share as a family,” Johnson said. Her husband, Rob; daughters Valerie, and Erica; and son Michael, now see it as a great time to be together.

“We laugh, carry on, and have such a good time,” Johnson said.

Photos for Christmas cards in the past were fairly basic, with matching shirts mainly. Sue became tired and bored with those cards and started making them more festive, with each member wearing red shirts and Santa hats, in 1993.

Each year became more elaborate than the next, with Sue making each of the costumes even as her family grew – she now has two sons-in-law joining the family Christmas tradition.

This year, Sue started making costumes around the first of November. The kids were going to be reindeer, complete with Rudolph, played by her new son-in-law, Mike. Sue said he has put up “such a stink” about dressing up for the Christmas card that she decided to make him stick out even more. It was also his punishment for waiting nine years to ask her daughter, Valerie, to marry him.

From the hooves to the ears – Sue sewed it all.

She and her husband would be Mrs. and Mr. Santa Claus, though she purchased these since she ran out of time.

Aside from the making of the costumes, a lot of planning was involved for this year’s Christmas photo – making it the most elaborate of them all, she said.

Scheduling a time when all of the family members can get together for a photo shoot can be tough, especially with her son, Michael going to college in Washington, DC.

This was the first year the photos weren’t taken in a studio, but at a farm in Hugo, where Santa’s sleigh happened to be.

Two years ago, the Johnsons and their family Christmas card were featured on KARE 11.

This year, it was picked up by the “TODAY,” whose producer was “in love” with the story.

There was also a short segment on WCCO Dec. 16.

When Sue told her mom she would be on the nationally televised show, Isabelle asked, “Well, did you mention Cokato?”

“It didn’t come up,” Sue replied.

Sue’s sister, Carol Semke of Cokato, said she isn’t the only one who can’t wait to open up the envelope to see what her sister came up with. “She never tells anybody.”

“Everybody’s eager,” Semke said, adding that people will drop all the other cards they received in the mail to open Sue’s first.

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