Nothing in my family is traditional, but we still had our “traditions.” My dad’s parents were divorced and remarried by the time I was born. In addition, my own parents divorced when I was 4, so when it came to holidays as a young kid, specifically Christmas, my older sister and I would shuffle from one of our many grandparents houses to the next to make sure we saw everyone.
We typically would start with Christmas Eve at my step-grandmother’s (my then step-dad’s mom) house; the house literally had rooms full of homemade cookies. I really have no idea how many rooms, or tables, were actually filled, (because she was only my step-grandma a few years and it was 25 years ago) … so in my mind I choose to remember her whole house overflowing with cookies.
Following step-grandma’s house, we would go to my maternal grandparent’s house for buffet style lasagna dinner. We would do Christmas on the main floor, with grandma; she always had bags full of treasures she would pick up from her thrifting, and a card either left blank so you could reuse it or signed, Clara, her alter-ego, filled with a little cash. Then a quick hangout with grandpa in the basement as his cigarettes filled the entire floor; enough time to grab some bar pretzels while spinning on his stools and eating some still half-frozen shrimp cocktail. My maternal grandfather would typically come up stairs to grab a plate of food, long after everyone else ate, and maybe stick around to open a present. I am guessing we got him socks.
Of course, we were home before my 8pm bed-time, so we could wake up to open presents at our house Christmas morning, the house I lived at with my mom and step-dad (step-dad from years 1990-1993). I remember one year my dad and step-mom sent my older sister and I a trunk full of everything we asked for. It was amazing; except, we didn’t get to spend Christmases with my dad, until I was roughly 10. See, my dad was in the Army, and when my parents got divorced, my mom moved us to be closer to our grandparents because we didn’t know when or where my dad would be stationed next. Luckily, my dad’s parents were very involved in our lives.
So Christmas Day, after opening presents at our house, my older sister and I would head to my paternal grandmother and step-grandfather’s house. My aunts, uncles, and cousins would all gather. The kids would drink copious amounts of Tang, dig in the candy cabinet grandma always kept full, and find some made up game to keep us occupied before opening gifts. Then, depending on which house my grandfather and step-grandmother were living at the time (grandpa bought, sold, and rented out real-estate), we may be able to walk from grandma’s house to grandpa’s house.
Once at grandpa’s house, we always had a sit down meal with many traditional Norwegian fixings: Potato Klubb was one I loved. Who doesn’t love a potato dumpling? Lutefisk is one that was served, but I was never brave enough to try. My cousin once referred to it as fish Jell-o, and I have never thought of it as anything else. And always served was Lefse; lots of butter and sugar spread on a very thin flatbread made from potatoes. Of course we had these Norwegian dishes; my paternal grandfather was 100% Norwegian after all.
Unfortunately, a lot of our traditions on my dad’s side dwindled when I was pretty young. My paternal grandmother died when I was 8, followed by a paternal uncle when I was 9, paternal step-grandfather when I was 11, and my paternal grandfather when I was 13. All the loss left a pretty big hole in everyone’s hearts, and possibly a reason my dad really dove deep into Ancestry.com when it came out (aside from his love for History); also, a reason I was probably so interested in genealogy at such a young age.
A few decades have gone by, and new holiday traditions have started. One holiday tradition is we typically spend Thanksgiving in Minneapolis, where I live. My older sister, my maternal uncle, or I host at one of our homes. The morning starts off with a Turkey Trot in Downtown Minneapolis, for those who want to run for fun. We blend together whatever family or friends want to join for an afternoon meal. My dad has come the last 3 years. His birthday happens to also be a few days after Thanksgiving. So this past year, I asked my sisters if they wanted to get him an Ancestry DNA test for his birthday because I truly thought this would be an amazing gift for him. He was very intrigued opening it, but then he left it in Minneapolis. My little sister brought it home with her to Arizona because many of us were going to see her for Christmas. Then my dad forgot it in Arizona. I was beginning to believe he was forgetting it for a reason.
In January, after my father-in-law passed away, my little sister flew to North Dakota for the funeral, with the Ancestry DNA test. I told my dad how my husband was able to get his mom and dad’s Ancestry DNA tests done while his dad was on hospice, so he was the only biological grandparent of my kids that hadn’t taken the test. A few days later, he spit in the tube, and sent it off to Ancestry.com for processing.
Weeks passed by and my dad was starting to get nervous he did the test wrong, but alas the results were in within about a month. Remember when I said my paternal grandfather was 100% Norwegian? My dad who had been so proud of his Norwegian heritage found out he was only 18%, and there is 13% Great Britain he had never known about. Thus, the family genealogy has gotten a bit shaken up. My dad and I are able to track my dad’s paternal side to Norway until the 1500s, but that’s where it stops. Recently, my dad ordered a Y-DNA test to determine how our family got to Norway and where they may have migrated from. I cannot wait to see those results!
Families change. Traditions change. Change can be good. Change can be hard.
“Life is 10% of what happens to you, and 90% of how you react to it.” – Charles Swindoll