December 23: North Dakota Christmases

Posted 12/25/22 (Sun)

By Jack Dura

Published December 23, 2022 at 1:05 AM CST

Merry Christmas! Here is a sampling of how North Dakotans of yore celebrated Christmas.

In 1868 at Fort Rice, German soldiers formed a singing group, entertaining on Christmas Eve. In addition to the songs, there was supper and “weak, home-made beer.”

Norwegians from Alkabo to Cooperstown celebrated Christmastime with “julebukking” in which people would dress in disguises and go from place to place visiting friends and neighbors, who would try to guess who they were, somewhat similar to Halloween.

In 1904, a McKenzie County family decorated a cedar tree with strings of popcorn and cranberries, cardboard stars covered with tin foil, and wax candles. Gifts included handmade knives and forks made with handles of carved bone or wood.

In 1910, the McVille Hotel and Restaurant offered an extensive Christmas menu with oyster soup, chicken soup and olives for appetizers; roast turkey with dressing and roast duck with cranberry sauce; rutabagas and June peas for vegetables; sweet pickles, chow-chow and dill pickles for relishes; and desserts of apple, mince or custard pie; praline pudding, ice cream, fruits, mixed nuts, brick cheese and cream cheese.

In 1929, 70 to 80 students, parents and visitors attending the Christmas program at Herr School No. 2 in Sheridan County, but they were stranded overnight at the schoolhouse due to a snowstorm. Parents led the group in games and songs amid the storm. Women and children slept on the floor or on desks pushed together.

In 1929, the secretary of the Dakota Monarch Turkey Club in Michigan, North Dakota, sent a Christmas dinner turkey to the editor of the Saturday Evening Post.

Harold and Eva Case were Congregational missionaries at Elbowoods on the Fort Berthold reservation from 1922 to 1955. Their mission helped the seven or eight churches on the reservation celebrate Christmas with candles, carols, trees, and gifts from Santa. Their preparations were "a scramble of activity" beginning the month before Christmas.

Christmas specials in 1932 at Selvig’s Store in Plaza, North Dakota, included 25 cents for a 2-pound jar of peanut butter, one dollar for two men’s dress shirts and seven cents a pound for “fancy” lutefisk. Christmas trees sold for 20 to 65 cents.

And on one Christmas, a Norwegian settler in the Souris area returned to his cabin to find his bachelor roommate and a neighbor had imbibed so freely that he found it impossible to arouse them. They had also eaten all the food, leaving the cupboard bare.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


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