Christmas Thoughts

lefse 2

Christmas to me in a word: Lefse!

Merry Christmas! The day our inner child has been awaiting is finally here. It’s Christmas Day, the first of The Twelve Days of Christmas!  I have a series of 12 intensely Christmas-y posts planned for the next 12 days. Each post keys off its respective line in that immortal song.

I’m sure you will enjoy my essays on the political ramifications of Leaping Lords, and I have a shocking Dairy & Hotel industry exposé concerning certain Milking Maids. Earlier in the series, you may enjoy the article about the bizarre biology and genetics of so-called “Turtle Doves.” There’s also a travel article; we’re going to France to see some Hens.

Yes, of course I’m kidding. This is a lazy Christmas Day post of random (sometimes silly) thoughts and memories of Christmas Passed.

Santa Baby

I have no excuse for this picture, but she’s too cute to not include (I’ve been trying to work it in for days.)

I’m not really going to post 12 Christmas posts, although I did sort of consider it. You could have some fun doing riffs off the lines of the song. It gets tougher when you get to all those Lords and Pipers and Drummers.

The bird ones are much easier! There’s the Partridge Family, and that’s funny already. Five golden rings? Easy Olympics tie-in. And that connects with the one about British women and cell phones (four Calling Birds).

I’ll spare you, but I just can’t help noting the contrast between the old Twelve Days of Christmas and how it is now. Christmas sneaks earlier and earlier into the year, once the Day passes, it vanishes like a popped balloon!

Christmas Day 2012

And it’s a White Christmas!
Hooray for Winter!

As I recall, we always put our tree up fairly close to the Day and then left it up into January. (And it’s possible I don’t recall. I estimate a 0.003% chance that foreign thoughts have been implanted in my brain by satellites, a 0.0007% chance that I’m a computer simulation booted just days ago, and a 28.0009% chance I have a really faulty memory.)

I remember much more recently—walking  my dog the week after Christmas (well, you have to walk them at some point, don’t you)—and seeing all the trees put out for pickup. I guess it would be crude (especially on Christmas Day) to point out certain parallels between how we have Christmas and how men canonically have sex. (Rather than “slam, bang,…” it’s “buy, wrap, thank you Visa!”)

weather 12-12-25

Not just white, but cold!!
A proper Christmas!

There is a certain irony in my doing all this writing about Christmas. For me it’s kind of a non-event (as all holidays are). I’ve been single nearly all my life (apparently mostly contentedly) and have lived alone since college. I don’t have strong family ties.

I have friends who would have me over, but that doesn’t work for me. Too close and yet too far.  Alone in a crowd kinda thing.

There were some years  while I was married where I really felt the holiday again, but it mostly passes me by. [I had a joke here about the Jewish women I’ve dated (there have been a few; apparently one of my “types”). I tried to tie it back to the mind-control bit, but there was no way to pull it off without it being a “Jewish” joke rather than a “Christmas” joke. Just another example of humor being a tricky minefield. What I really should do, in honor of a dear college friend, is come up with the world’s first Jewish Lesbian Christmas joke!]

electric fireplace

Good day to turn on the gas fireplace.

But so does the stress pass me by. I’ve done Christmas alone so often that it’s normal, and it mostly means free time off from work (plus there are a number of days where no one does anything).

I have the unusual option of partaking in it as much—or as little—as I want. It’s kind of cool once you work past the whole “alone at Christmas time” thing.

[And I’ll tell you a secret. For years I’ve been giving gifts of nice bottles of wine or fine liquors. My Christmas shopping consists of one (expensive) visit to a good liquor store. It’s not random—there’s considerable thought in the selection. It’s just that it’s surprisingly easy to match up your friends with various kinds of good booze.]

iced ginger cookies

Anyone want the last two ginger bread cookies?

Maybe it’s my general love of music, but I love the songs! I have iPod playlists of Christmas songs for this time of year.  I’ve shared a few of my favorites in the previous posts.

And finally, it’s the idea of Christmas that warms the heart and softens the frowns. Whatever else might be true, it turns a dark, cold time of year into a joyful event filled with light and color and music and good food. (When you come down to it, that’s actually pretty cool.) And, of course, there’s also the whole Winter Solstice thing.  The daylight is coming back!

My father was a Lutheran pastor, so the Christmases of my childhood were both very traditionally observed and seen as “work days.” We did the gift thing on Christmas eve after the traditional family Christmas dinner of lutefisk. Now, when I say “family tradition” what I mean is a tradition imposed by my parents, who apparently loved that Norwegian cooked fish jello known as lutefisk.


Fish jello.
Boiled “until translucent!”

Imagine taking some perfectly good freshly caught Cod fish and drying it in the sun until you can pound nails with it. In addition to being useful as a hammer, you can also store the stuff. For centuries. Later, to make it what is very loosely described as “edible,” you soak it in lye, because that’s what it takes to make hammers edible.

Then, what with lye being a deadly poison, you wash the fish. Thoroughly. Very thoroughly. As you might imagine, laundered fish doesn’t have the same consistency as fresh fish. Or—really—as any fish you would want to eat.

fish drying

Future Christmas dinners … or hammers?

Of course, at this point you’re back to raw, if somewhat experienced, fish, so unless you want lutefisk sushi, the final preparation step is cooking. Broiling might have a chance of making this unrevolting—at least the fish pudding could have a crusty top. But around our house we left out the “r” because cooking things in water was how we did it then (possibly under the heading of things making you stronger if they don’t kill you first, or maybe they just really hated flavor back then).

The stuff looked, smelled (ancient, boiled fish!) and tasted pretty much as you might expect. My sister and I wanted no part of it, and we were given (as a concession) pork chops (which, quite frankly, seemed like punishment for not partaking of the lutefisk feast).

Norwegian cookies

There’s always cookies!

The funny thing is that, as I understand it, lutefisk is considered “poverty food” by actual Norwegians; they turn their noses up at it. It certainly seems to be the sort of thing you would eat only if you had to.

It’s only over here that “Norwegian-Americans” observe their heritage with Lutefisk Dinners.


(Lefse; same thing!)

There was a compensation—a huge compensation. Not to be confused with lutefisk is lefse, food of the gods (at least for kids). It’s essentially a potato tortilla; the best lefse is paper-thin. It’s often pressed with a rough cloth to give it a rough texture (that provides traction for the buttering phase). You eat it by applying a thin layer of butter and then as much cinnamon-sugar as humanly possible. Mmmm… butter, sugar, cinnamon! Kid Crack.

lefse 1

First butter, then comes the sugar and cinnamon!

I lived for lefse. I would have murdered grandparents for lefse.  I still buy it at Christmas time, but nothing—nothing I have ever tasted—comes close to my mom’s lefse. (And that more than makes up for the lutefisk.)

Our Christmas Eve dinner had yet another punishment, at least for me: for dessert there was a Norwegian rice pudding (again: look, smell, taste, texture; all serious fails) served to one and all. Hidden in one bowl was an almond (one of the few nuts I don’t like). Whomever got the almond got some prize.  I wouldn’t touch the pudding, so I forfeited the prize every year. (Fortunately it was trivial. A roll of Lifesavers, for example.)

skylight 12-12-22

Sun at its lowest point; can’t make it out of the skylight well!

After dessert it was time for the religious readings. The same texts read the same way every year. Can you blame us for being impatient? Sister and I wanted to get to the presents!

And then, later, it was usually off to church for the midnight service. That put sis and I in bed fairly late, but we were up early, because our stockings were filled on Christmas morning. Usually with a lot of candy and some very cheap simple toys—mostly we wanted that candy, a kind of second Halloween.

So there it is, Christmas. I hope yours has been wonderful!!

Pass the lefse!

To play you out, here’s another favorite from my Christmas playlist:

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

21 responses to “Christmas Thoughts

  • Snoring Dog Studio

    I had a marvelous Christmas. It was one of the best ever. And it was quiet, comfy and spent with two of my favorite people and our dogs – the way I like it. I still can remember, far too well and with much discomfort, the many Christmas holidays spent with too many people, too much noise and activity, and so little peace.

    Christmas spent alone would be difficult for me – though I experienced it a few times and I imagine I could do it again if I had to.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m glad you had a great Christmas! I would far rather spend it alone than with too many people. Spending it alone isn’t ideal, but I’m used to it.

      (And I really am a lone wolf type — have been all my life — so it’s not the worst thing in the world for me. I would have made a successful hermit or monk, I think sometimes. All that time to do whatever you want actually sounds like of glorious!)

  • reocochran

    Offbeat question, but did you ever see the movie called “In the Name of the Rose?” I am pretty sure Sean Connery is in it also, Sean Penn. I will check on this later, as I always seem to just have a nagging thought to mention to you, then I check later… Anyway, it is not as difficult to understand as the book and I like it. It is kind of a solitary movie.
    I am glad you had the yummy parts of the holiday and can just mention the yucky ones. You don’t have to eat them anymore! The cinnamon, sugar and butter lefse sounds like we can all duplicate that treat!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      My dad was a big fan of The Name of the Rose (both the book and the movie). I’ve never read the book, and the few times the movie was on, it was shown with no Closed Captioning, so I didn’t watch. It was one of my dad’s favorites, though! Sean Connery stars with F. Murray Abraham. According to Wikipedia, Christian Slater was in it, but I don’t see Penn’s name; maybe it was Slater you were thinking of? (Or is Penn in it with no credit? Actors do that sometimes.)

  • minisculegiants

    Lefse is yummy! I don’t think I’ve dared try lutefisk, though.
    I really love the picture of the winter neighborhood you included in this post. It reminds me very much of the neighborhood in North Dakota I used to live in. Such a wonderful place!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      NoDak is certainly a close cousin. I saw a cute map once that labeled Minnesota as “East Dakota.” 😀

      How weird is it that that same people came up with both lefse and lutefisk?!

      • minisculegiants

        “East Dakota.” Hahahaha! I’ll be sharing that one with my daughters over breakfast this morning!

        I wish I had visited in Minnesota more. It’s so pretty there.

        Have a great day!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The Tri-State Area! 😀

        We get our revenge. I’ve also seen a map that labels Wisconsin as East Minnesota (which, given the number who live in WI and work in MN, is quote apropos).

        (I take it visiting MN is not an option now.) Yes, it is pretty here. I’ve found beauty everywhere, although I’m starting to think it’s partially the ability or willingness to see it. People always rag on the “long, boring” drive through either of the Dakotas (more so South than North), but I think “big sky” is gorgeous and breath-taking, especially if you don’t see it usually. The ability to see clouds and (better yet) storms off in the distance is amazing. Same with living in the desert, which I also think is beautiful.

        But I digress! You also have a great day!

      • minisculegiants

        Love talking to you!
        We miss seeing so much of the sky…but yes, the desert is beautiful, too.
        Best wishes!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Likewise! Have a very Happy New Year!!

  • It's only P!

    Talking about Norwegian food, I make a mean eplekake. 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I had to look that up, but from the pictures I think I’ve had it. I’m usually not big on cooked fruit (I’m, like, one of ten people in the whole world who don’t like pie.) As I recall, it was baked in a square cake pan; cinnamon was involved. I recall the actual slices of apple.

      • It's only P!

        So you’re Wyrd! 🙂

        It’s not a pie, it’s a cake and the apples are baked, not cooked. 😉 Always try once a year if your dislikes from last year still apply… That’s how I discovered Kalamata olives. mmmmmm

      • Wyrd Smythe

        This Byrd is the Wyrd! 😛

        It’s really a simple equation: fruit + heat = cooked fruit

        I know I don’t have to explain to you that heat causes chemical and structural (texture) changes. The last remnants of my fussy-eater childhood still pop up when it comes to “fruit that has had heat applied” (for lack of a better term! :lol:) Even all the sugar and cinnamon just don’t quite redeem it for me. (I’m a sad case; I know.)

        Maybe not annually, but I do retry things [Retry, Continue, Abort?] from time to time. You’re absolutely right that tastes do change. I was a very fussy eater as a kid (I was initially suspicious of ice cream!); bread, potatoes, easily identifiable (and well-known) meats, that was about it for my comfort zone. Didn’t even like ketchup! Still won’t touch anything pickled, and the only egg dish I like is quiche (which, arguably, isn’t very eggy).

        But at some point in adulthood I learned that veggies won’t kill me—most of them anyway. Some of the darker greens and any form of squash literally (and I mean “literally” literally) makes me gag (same with hard-boiled or fried eggs; there is a literal and strong gag reflex… sensitivity to sulfur, perhaps?). But now I’ll eat my broccoli (preferably with melted cheese) or cauliflower (raw in dip actually isn’t horrible).

        And I’ve learned I like strong brown mustard, which was way off the menu as a kid. Started using it in pastrami sandwiches (on toasted rye with melted Swiss—a real weakness of mine), where the strong meat flavor masks the dreaded mustard (and adds some tang). Then I learned it worked well on ham sandwiches, too. And now recently I find it even compliments turkey sandwiches. Still, when I lick the knife (one of the joys of being single), and get that vinegary tang of mustard, it always amazes me that I like this stuff… part of me is still going, “Ewwww!!!” (While some other part of me is going, “Nummy! Nummy!” Weird, that.)

        What was the question, again? 🙂 Olives? No, don’t care for olives. You can have mine. 😛

  • It's only P!

    Good thing I just had a late evening snack. Your food babbling was inspiring! I just had meat balls with creamy spinach with mozzarella and Parmesan. I’m a flexitarian and eat meat about once a quarter and today was it! You couldn’t lick the knife when you were part of a couple? Yikes! 😛

    Yes, I do understand that certain foods would never be (re)tried. I would never eat crocodile again and never, ever try tripe, sweetbread, brains or eyes. And I’m sure there’s much more. I was being a little facetious about the non-cooked apple. 🙂 Pity we don’t get intonation with text on the screen. It should change colour automatically when we joke. I.e. there should be a sensor that picks up on our brain waves. In how many years?

    On that note, I’m going to make a cuppa Rooibos tea and feast on a slice of Dutch raisin bread with almond paste. I have a huge sweet tooth (and fortunately, a small stomach.)

    What’s your favourite pastry?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve had some wonderful meatball subs on cold winter days; the melted cheese, the marinara sauce, the juicy meat-a-balls! Nums!! (But fresh pastrami on toasted dark rye with melted Swiss and that brown mustard will give it a run for the money any non-winter day!) I’m an unabashed carnivore; it so happens I don’t eat a huge amount of red meat, though. Much more likely turkey, chicken or pork. Love seafood and fish.

      Licking the knife is considered (by most) uncouth when its a shared utensil. Couplehood had plenty of problems, but that wasn’t one of them. (They certainly were related to differing views of couthness.)

      Crocodile. I think I had “Crocodile-on-a-stick” at the State Fair. (If you don’t know—I’m not sure how universal the meme is—but the idea of any food imaginable…”on-a-stick” is a State Fair kind of thing, and the meme comes from the truth of a lot of edibles on sticks over the years. Frozen chocolate-dipped bananas on-a-stick. Pancakes on-a-stick. Carmel apples, cake, frozen yogurt, every meat that exists, cookies, huge popcorn balls and—of course—corndogs; all on-a-stick.) Why never again with the crocodile? It wasn’t crocodelicious?

      Well, the smiley, I knew you were kidding at least a little, but absent tone and/or really knowing someone, it can be very hard to pick up the nuance of presentation. “They” say up to 90% of communication can be visual; facial expression, posture, movement, eye contact, all those things are factors. A lot else comes from vocal tone, speed, volume and other audibles, but (speaking as someone with a lifelong hearing handicap) the bulk really does come from visuals. (They’ve enabled me to fake my way through many, many situations in life when I had no clue what was going on due to not hearing.)

      Pastry. Not huge on pastry to the extent it means light or flaky or creamed and there’s the whole cooked fruit thing, which plays a role in so many pastries. I’m way, way, WAY a bread man, though. I think I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like (at least a little). And I love cookies and cakes, but more along the tort lines with cakes. Don’t like the light, airy cakes, or light, whipped frosting. Gimme a good honest, simple cake with a good honest substantial butter-cream frosting (unwhipped).

      For example, the lowly doughnut. To me the chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting is irresistible! A dozen of those is my once-per-quarter allowance! However my uncontested top dessert treat along these lines: an iced gingerbread/molasses cookie. Heavy on the dark molasses; heavy on the icing (in all senses of the word “heavy”). When such as those are involved, all thoughts of generosity, sharing or fairness are off the table. Which do you value more… that last ginger cookie? Or the use of your fingers?? 😐

      The local grocery store has been making a pretty fair one lately, and I’ve been over-indulging for the season. Time to stop that. I’ve actually managed to (temporarily!) sate myself; it’s gotten to the point of, “Meh, another ginger cookie. Guess I better eat it before it gets too stale.”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Um,… if you were to remark, you would not be the first do to so, that I easily wax prolific when it comes to talking about food…

      • It's only P!

        That sure is a waaay more eloquent way to put it than my ‘food babbling.’ 😛 It’s a post on its own, man. 😉

        I’m extremely facetious, so bear that in mind with any of my comments, but less so, my posts. I was surrounded by Brits and people of British descent for so long that it rubbed off on me. Plenty of self mockery but they like to take the mickey out of others too… not maliciously though. Not everyone appreciates it. Around my sister I’m in a straightjacket. Very stifling.

        The Germans say ‘Was sich liebt, das neckt sich.’ What it means is that only if someone likes you will they tease you. You don’t tease when you dislike someone, right?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ah, there ya go again, touching on truths that are key in my life,too. Very true about teasing; it’s a sign of love! And while not an Anglophile, I do rather love the Brits and their humor and their way of life (England is, after all, our Mother Country). I absolutely, completely, utterly, all my life, have been down with self-mockery and even more so taking the mickey out of others! (That’s exactly why I argue theism with atheists and atheism with theists.) Very little activates my gleefully-wicked balloon-popping side than does pompous certainty.

        And unless the conversation is obviously deadly serious, my tongue is always firmly planted at least a little bit in cheek. Laughter and humor is probably my most highly valued thing in life, and the times when I can’t find some humor in a situation are rare (and say far more about my mood a the time—I have to be way, way, WAY down).

        We sure seem to have a lot in common!

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