tradition, pancake balls, and singing in norwegian :: thank you grandpa bob

December 29, 2009

Not too long ago I got a great email from a young and growing family in our church…

“We have been discussing Christmas and are trying to decide what traditions we want our family to start/continue.  Looking for feedback as to what you each do with your families to help ensure that the season is for the reason…”

A month ago at Living Hope Church this entire family was baptized together.  Mom, Dad, and all the kids… including little tiny Miles, who wasn’t supposed to make it to delivery, according to the doctors and statistics.  But he did – all four pounds of him.  And he helped turn his parents’ hearts fully Godward in the process.

Now they want input.  Traditions.  Can you help?

Here’s the Skogerboe Christmas Eve Master List.  Traditions + Significance.  Here’s what Christmas Eve looks like with our family.  Full of traditions… and this year I appreciated them more than I ever have before.  I watch the effect they have on my kids, and the opportunities these traditions provide to learn deeper lessons.  (Or not, in some cases, as you’ll see below…)  But it all adds up to Christmas magic.  Here we go:

(1)  The candle-light Christmas Eve service before dinner…  In years when we don’t have a service at Living Hope, our family joins with Grandma and Grandpa Lee for a traditional Lutheran Christmas Eve service at Grace Free Lutheran Church.  Traditional Christmas hymns and carols.  Organ.  Piano.  Violin.  Reading of the Christmas Story.  “O Holy Night” sung by Pastor Monseth (although he had laryngitis this year and a fellow pastor filled in), and a gospel-themed message that points us beyond the manger to the cross.  Very little changes from year to year.  It’s all warm and familiar and bathed in pine scent and candle wax.  SIGNIFICANCE:  We all need to hear what matters most over and over, because our circumstances change, and our experiences may change us, but the amazing condescension of God Almighty at Christmas NEVER changes.  Also, men apparently get a one-day free pass from the fashion police if they squeeze into too-small sweaters… provided those sweaters are (A) bright red, (B) hand woven in Norway, and/or (C) contain a Christmas-themed winter scene.

(2)  The reading of the Christmas story at the table before we eat…  Every year as we sit up to the table for our Christmas Eve feast, Grandpa Bob will once again pull out his worn Bible, and read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two.  The smell of savory goodness from the kitchen is tempting, but first things first.  Grandpa’s rich baritone voice reads the familiar words, and his prayer of thanks always goes far beyond the food we’re about to eat.  SIGNIFICANCE:  Jesus comes first.  He’s the reason for everything good that we enjoy.  Everything we enjoy is therefore a reason to worship.  That, and the fact that delayed gratification is a sub-theme of Christmas Eve that applies to adults and kids alike.

(3)  THE quintessential Christmas Eve dinner…  And I emphasize THE because, at this point, eating anything else would just feel… like cheating.  Grandma Lo sets the table with candles and greenery and Christmas dishes.  Grandpa Bob slaves over his fresh-ground cardamom-enhanced aebleskivers (round pancake-like balls, somewhere in size between a golf-ball and a racquetball), and we take turns commenting on the quality of the potato sausage, perfectly browned.  We also take turns commenting on Gloria’s hot fruit soup, which without fail is the BEST this year.  (She will humbly shrug off the compliments, of course, and steer our focus to the size of the fruit pieces this year or the balance of citrus fruit in the mix.)  We all stuff our aebleskivers with some mix of fruit preserves, sour cream, whipped cream, apple sauce, butter, cherries, or (in my case) a dab of peanut butter.  Everyone competes for the most savory combination.  It’s a perfect ensemble for the palate.  SIGNIFICANCE:  Although I could struggle to come up with some metaphor for international unity or global peace represented by the Danish (aebleskiver) – Norwegian (fruktsoppa) – Swedish (potato sausage) culinary trifecta before us, I think I’ll go with this…  Food is way more fun if it’s ball-shaped.

(4)  Dishes before presents…  Is it just me, or is this a universal torture technique of all parents with young children?  I had to endure the seemingly endless clean-up regimen after dinner when I was a wee lad.  And now we foist this cruelty upon our own pancake-ball stuffed offspring.  But why?  I know.  I hear the sage wisdom of those who have gone before ringing in my ears even now…  “We do what we must do so that we can do what we want to do.”  Patience.  Responsibility.  Cooperation.  Right.  I think the real reason behind this generations-old child abuse policy may be well-known but (understandably) goes unspoken…  SIGNIFICANCE:  It’s a parental power trip.  There’s nothing more endorphin-producing than holding out the greatest moment in your young child’s year like a carrot as they drool and vibrate in place.  It’s awesome.  Also, the entire kitchen gets cleaned in about 14 seconds.  I tried to spring for a quick vacuuming of my minivan and alphabetization of my music library this year before presents, as well, before Amy shot me down.

(5)  Lighting of the Advent Wreath and singing of the Christmas carol that corresponds to each candle…  First the Prophecy candle.  Bethlehem.  Shepherds.  Angels.  And the tall one in the middle… the Christ candle.  All the kids try to remember which one comes next – to be the first to shout it out.  And we SING.  This year I noticed a marked increase in our volume.  The tribe is growing.  Inevitably Amy will try to extend each song by beginning the obscure third and fourth verses, and we all struggle to remember the words.  Without fail, someone will repeatedly throw a “Grandma” in JUST before we launch into “Glo-o-o-o-ria” on “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and everyone looks at Grandma Gloria and chuckles their way through the refrain.  And the crowning moment is the final verse of “I Am so Glad Each Christmas Eve,” sung in Norwegian, as it has always been in the Lee family since Amy was a little girl.  We’ve been married for 15 years now, and I dated her for 4 years before that… but I only sing this verse once per year.  I still sound like an inebriated Swedish Chef.  One of these years I’ll pull out the ol’ Concordia Hymnal a few days early and prepare to shock them all with my Norske prowess.  SIGNIFICANCE:  With each verse, with each candle, the story sinks deeper.  It is becoming more and more a part of my children’s DNA.  The prophets foretold it.  The shepherds – the lowliest of men – were first to hear the news.  Jesus really was born in Bethlehem – just as the prophets said he would be.  Angels reminded us not to fear – that Jesus’ coming is good news – the best news ever – and it is for ALL the people.  And, of course, He would have preferred to be born in Oslo among His own people, but it’s just too nippy up there mid-to-late December.

Then, of course, the ripping and shredding of carefully wrapped packages ensues with fervor.  We encourage eye contact and hugs after every gift.  And expectation finally meets reality.  Just as it was 2000 years ago when Jesus came – on the first Christmas Eve.

What are your traditions as a family?  Let me know what makes Christmas feel like Christmas to you…



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“tradition, pancake balls, and singing in norwegian :: thank you grandpa bob” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.