The Spirit of Christmases Past

Geraldson Cropped 2This year the 104th Geraldson Family Christmas Party was celebrated in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on December twenty-first. The party has survived good times and bad, booms and depressions, peace and war, births and deaths. I think that’s pretty remarkable.

About sixty-five “Geraldsons” were present this year—many (like me) with very un-Geraldson-like surnames. My mother was the daughter of Gerald Geraldson—originally Gjerald Gjeraldson—born in Arendal, Norway. Gerald and Christina (my Danish grandmother) had six children, one who died as a baby. Of the remaining five, only one is still alive—my Uncle David. Thankfully, he’s in great shape.

When I was a child and there were three generations of Geraldsons, Christmas was celebrated at Grandma ‘s house on Christmas Eve, a Scandinavian tradition. Later, as the family grew, we moved to the Log Lodge, a YMCA party house on the river in Rockford, Illinois. Today the party is held somewhere west of Milwaukee, usually on the first Saturday before Christmas. Responsibility for hosting the party rotates through the five original families (sounds Sicilian, doesn’t it?) in order of birth. My mother was the oldest, so my turn will come around again in two years. That will be the 106th.

Many traditions remain, at least in memory. Finding the almond in the rice pudding meant that you would be next to marry. Budding Geraldson musicians would perform, a prolonged and painful affair as I remember it, since musical talent seems to have skipped the Geraldson DNA. In the past we made those aspiring to join the family by marriage sing a solo. Today, mercifully, this is threatened but never carried out. We also used to swing a piňata for the children. How a Mexican tradition found its way into a Scandinavian family, I don’t know. And I don’t know how we made it through twenty or thirty years without a serious head injury.

We no longer give presents—the family is too big. When I was growing up, however, hidden among the wrapped presents each year was a baby rattle from the early 1900s, the small rectangular box disguised in some creative way and bearing a tag “From Santa.” The one who received the rattle was to bring it back the next year, wrapped up for someone else. Sometime in the 1960s, the rattle was lost—by whom, no one remembers. One day the rattle will be found at the bottom of a box in someone’s attic. Geraldsons aren’t noted for their organizational skills either.

Over the years we have welcomed many guests to the party—boyfriends and girlfriends; those separated from their own families for the holidays; a succession of international students. This year we welcomed a brother and sister from Latvia. Our most memorable visitor has to be the young Masai warrior from Kenya, studying at Kendall College and taken in for the holidays by one of the families. He regaled us with tales of lion hunting and manhood ceremonies, a little more vividly, I suspect, than the grown-ups would have liked.

In recent years we’ve included a Geraldson Family Trivia contest—one competition in which the oldest among us hold a competitive edge. Three traditions remain: the singing of Christmas carols (heartfelt if not tuneful); the reading of the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel; and a prayer for the coming year.

Today we are five generations strong and growing. The newest “Geraldson” attended the party this year in utero. She will be born in May, and we look forward to meeting her next year. Those who have died are mourned and remembered with great fondness and laughter. Long may the Geraldson Family Christmas Party live. Something that has survived for 104 years deserved to be cherished.

What are your family traditions? What are you passing on to the next generation?

I wish you a joyous Christmas and a happy New Year!

One thought on “The Spirit of Christmases Past

  1. My husband’s family is from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, about 20 minutes west of Milwaukee. They are German with an old brewery history to go along with them. We lived in Madison for years and would always spend Christmas in Oconomowoc. When Granny died, family Christmas celebrations sadly scattered from North Yorkshire, England to Sanibel, FL to Washington DC. We were living in Columbus, OH at the time and decided to swap Oconomowoc Christmas for summer vacation. We’ve since moved to Iowa City, IA but we still vacation in Oconomowoc every summer with our family. It is wonderful. Our children see where their great-great grandparents lived, where the men in the family attended military school and the women attended boarding school, where their great grandparents lived and where their grandparents grew up. We have so much fun reconnecting with families we know who still live there and touring our old family homes. For Christmas we have many special ornaments that remind us of Wisconsin and we enjoy putting them on the tree and retelling family history.

    These days, we attend Christmas Eve service our church and come home for a hearty meal of baked clam chowder and oyster crackers. Christmas morning, we do stockings and then pause to thank God for sending His Son for us. Each of us gives thanks for something Jesus has done in our lives. Then the kids go crazy opening gifts, we sing, we eat and we end up playing games/watching movies late into the evening.

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