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​‘Tis the Season: The Many Traditions of F-M Winter Holidays

News | December 14th, 2022

By Brittney Goodman

Whether you have a menorah, a nativity, an artificial or real tree, a kinari, a Krampus costume, or none of the above, the winter holiday season in the Red River Valley is a time of meaning and celebration for many, in a variety of formats. The holiday season includes religious and secular celebrations that include ceremony, food, and gatherings of family and friends.

And in our area, a white Christmas is usually a reality, like it or not. And, if you didn’t know it, many winter holiday traditions stem from pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. It seems that most cultures have a way of bringing light and celebration into the darkest time of the year.

Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Krampusnacht, Winter Solstice, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are a few of the holidays that are observed during the winter in our area.

I reached out to the community through a few social media groups and am excited to share the varied ways our residents celebrate the season.

Traditions and Memories

While traditions are varied in our area, they usually revolve around family and friends.

A Fargo resident says, “Christmas is exclusively cultural for me. I have no religious attachments, though I fondly remember the pomp and circumstance of Christmas Mass.” She continues, “We still don't have a fireplace to hang our stockings on, but in the early years of dating my husband, he was sad that we didn't have a fireplace or stockings, so I made a mini fireplace out of construction paper and small fabric stockings with our names printed on them. We don't use either anymore, but they're safely tucked away because the memory is so dear.”

Kim Jore, Fargo, who is of Polish and Norwegian descent, enjoys time with family over the holidays: “I love Christmas Eve, going to church, playing games, watching football, delivering julaake to neighbors and drinking hot toddies.”

Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African American culture, includes a communal feast called Karamu. A West Fargo resident, who celebrates Kwanzaa says: “We enjoy assembling the kinara display for Kwanzaa and lighting the candles. It is all about honoring and celebrating where we come from. We celebrate Christmas too, so this extends the festiveness.”

Janeen Kobrinsky, a rabbi from Fargo, talks about Chanukah: “Chanukah is a delightful festival of lights at the darkest time of the year. It is a joyous celebration that is largely a home observance that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Selucids in 164 B.C.E. It is very much a story of triumph by the few, led by Yehudah Maccabee.” She continues, “People often refer to Chanukah as the Jewish Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s totally incidental that they often overlap with one another.” Kobrinsky adds, “We gather as a family. Everyone lights their own Chanukah menorah. It’s quite a conflagration in our house.” She continues, “Gelt (money) is exchanged as chocolate coins. We sing, we eat and admire the beauty of the light.”

Karen Joan Kohoutek, Fargo, celebrates Krampusnacht on December 5, a night when people dress up as Krampus, a horned anthropomorphic figure in Alpine folklore, and chase naughty children through the streets. She and her husband also observe Hogswatch which is “the Christmas equivalent in Terry Pratchett's novels on the Winter Solstice, and then a sort of extended Yuletide over Christmas Eve to the New Year's Eve: not quite a 12 Days.” Kohoutek continues, “I get Christmas cookies at Nichole's, I read some Christmas ghost stories. I have a specific stocking I hang up with a Krampus doll in it. I mostly try to mark the dates in the calendar and do something related to them, being mindful of the connection.” She explains that most of what they do for winter holidays is not related to her or her husband’s upbringing: “As adults we get to create whatever kind of a holiday we want, so it's a mix of historical interest, and just things that make us happy, related to bringing lightness into the dark time of year.”

Navaratri, or the Nine Nights of the Goddess, is a group of ceremonies originating in India, which Jessica Zdenek, Moorhead, observes. Zdenek, a yoga teacher in Fargo-Moorhead, is the small business owner of Taraloma Earth Temple and a student of Swami Sri Kaleshwar. She talks about a divine lineage tradition with a new moon on December 23 when she will host a fire puja in her back yard to celebrate. Fire pujas, according to Zdenek, “can be used to send concentrated healing energies and prayers to those in need and to de-charge from negative influences in our lives.” She says she will be honoring Mary this year, offering her flowers, rice and ghee, and will “break coconuts with big prayers and intentions to release into the world on these holy days.”

Maxine Fagerland from Fargo remembers as a child, “receiving a brown bag with peanuts, a few mixed nuts and an apple from the church.” She also recalls “My dad would find an old car hood, turned it upside down and he hooked it to the back of the car and pulled us around on the hood.”

Alex Ellsworth, Fargo, celebrates Christmas, which has “always been a big deal in my family. My mom went above and beyond, decorating seven to eight Christmas trees in the house along with many other decorations.”

Sara Abrams, Fargo, had an interesting tradition to share: “My Scottish/English grandparents would put a tinfoil-wrapped rutabaga in my stocking every Christmas. I have no idea why they did it or where the tradition came from. I DO remember being disappointed that it wasn't a bowling ball (child perspective much?) every single time I unwrapped it. Odd cultural tradition or just getting a good laugh? Who knows!”

And perhaps the most unusual festive tradition of all, Lisa Roscoe, Fargo, and her family enjoy playing “Bombs Away” in which participants, hopefully wearing pants, put quarters between their butt cheeks and try to walk and then drop them in a small glass.

Food and Drink

Food and drink are central to the holiday season, with so many delicious traditions to share.

In a Facebook questionnaire, the responses about food were plentiful and varied. Some of the food and drink traditions included: Cookies – spritz, krumkake, rosettes, Mexican wedding cookies, and peanut butter blossoms; Cocktails – Eggnog; Cinnamon schnapps, Tom & Jerrys; Aperol Spritz, Red Wine, and Hot Cocoa – spiked or not; Popcorn balls; Ham; Prime Rib; Lasagna; Cranberries; Cheese and Charcuterie Board; Au Gratin Potatoes; Squash, and Scalloped Corn.

I grew up in Kentucky, with English, Irish, and German ancestry. I remember eating Woodford pudding (a spongy, spiced and sauced pudding), eating “country ham” and drinking custard (similar to egg nog with a thicker consistency). Living in the Fargo-Moorhead area for 25 years now, I have since grown fond of the Tom and Jerry holiday toddies and lefse with butter and sugar of the Upper Midwest.

Karen Joan Kohoutek, Fargo, has a story about her sometimes tradition of a Christmas Eve hot dog: “Not every year, but often, I have what is known as ‘the Traditional Christmas Eve Hot Dog.’ Growing up my family had oyster stew on Christmas Eve, which I didn't like, and I'd have a hot dog instead (since that took almost no extra time to make). One year I tried the oyster stew, thought it was okay, and then got a violent bout of the flu, so I could never eat it again. My nephew was little then, and he didn't like it either, so the two of us would jokingly have our hot dogs as a Tradition with a capital T. Usually we'll have potato soup, which was a tradition in my husband's family, but sometimes there'll be a Traditional Christmas Eve Hot Dog.”

Nicolette Johnson from Moorhead says her family always has “tacos and Kool-Aid on Christmas Eve and frozen pizza on Christmas Day.”

A West Fargo resident who celebrates Kwanzaa talks about the food: “We have a lot of what I consider soul food, but it is a mixture of old and new traditions. We traditionally have Hoppin’ John, spoon bread, and spicy and sweet yams.”

A Fargo respondent says: “My husband makes figgy pudding several times in December. Other food tends to focus on hearty fare and spiced desserts. A chocolate orange is a must.”

Janeen Kobrinsky's family “traditionally eats greasy food in remembrance of the oil (used to light the menorah). Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganyot (like a jelly donut) are my favorites.”

Kim Jore, Fargo, enjoys “making recipes of my mom’s from her Christmas cookbook” and her family’s traditional Christmas Eve meal is “prime rib and shrimp, twice baked potatoes, and wine” and homemade caramel rolls on Christmas Day.

Tracy Faleide, Pelican Rapids, especially enjoys “party appetizers like baked brie with crostini rounds, smoked salmon, and prosciutto-wrapped melon.”

Kimberly Rassmussen-Anderson from Glyndon: “We have lefse, frosted sugar cookies, krumkake, spritz, and fudge. My family always eats lutefisk, but it is gross!”

Arts, Entertainment, and Shopping

Seasonal movies are a favorite tradition of many. A Fargo resident explains: “We always watch a ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ on Christmas Eve, but the other movies change. A new favorite is the Christmas horror genre (‘Krampus’, ‘Rare Exports’, etc.).”

Others who were interviewed mentioned television specials such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Holiday lights are enjoyed by many, including Janeen Kobrinsky: “I must say that I love the Christmas lights that pop up around now. They are so beautiful in these long dark days.”

Other winter holiday traditions include the Norwegian Christmas Party at the Sons of Norway, the Xcel Holiday Lights Parade that culminates in Downtown Fargo, driving through the Holiday Lights display at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, the Broadway Square tree lighting and ice skating, attending holiday concerts such as the Concordia Christmas Concert and the Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men’s Chorus, holiday drag shows, seasonal brews at local brew pubs, and shopping local all over the area.

One opportunity to shop locally is RiverZen in Moorhead, with proprietor Kim Jore. For the past 16 years, Jore has come up with a new theme for the holidays annually. This year it is holiday cats and dogs, but other years have included themes of winter landscapes, countries, holiday fonts, Rudolph the rednosed reindeer, 12 days of Christmas, birds, leaves, and rocks.

Kim has holiday art for sale, cards, ornaments, bath and beauty items, and more, and always has her studio and shop decorated beautifully. Of this year’s theme, she says: “I don’t have any of my own but sure do love everyone else’s. There are so many people that love their pets and I’ve done commissions of many dogs and cats in the past. So I thought that it would be a good theme.” She always likes to give back to the community, and this year Jore is giving a portion of her sales to the Cats Cradle Shelter and 4 Luv of Dogs Rescue.

And if the weekend shopping crowds are an issue, you may want to try shopping in Downtown Fargo with its many locally-owned walkable boutiques, galleries and shops, along with places to refresh and take a break. I’ll take a hot apple cider, please!

Also, MATBUS offers Quarter Days – with bus rides on Saturday during the month of December costing only 25 cents. You can leave your car at home and get to West Acres, the Moorhead Center Mall and major shopping spots in the area.  

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