Holiday Memories: German Christmas in S. Dakota

I would like to share some great holiday memories. They are great to me because they go back some 60 years.

I was raised on a large farm in South Dakota. My parents came from Germany. Besides myself, I had three older brothers who did the farming. Preparing for Christmas was something very special. My mother would bake sugar cookies and her special coffee cake. In German, it was called Koffee Kuchen. This koffee kuchen was served mostly for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

My father and brothers would go into town, which was some 30 miles away to stock up for Christmas. One thing I remember was my older brother lugging in a big bushel of apples. That was a treat to have apples at Christmas time. I remember helping my mother peel apples for apple pie. That way I could eat some of the slices. Her baked apple pie was scrumptious.

We always had a huge Christmas tree set up in the dining room. Our mother decorated the tree with mostly homemade ornaments. She would also pop corn and string that and wrap walnuts in aluminum foil and hang them on the tree. There were some clear glass ornaments that were very fragile. I was never allowed to touch them.

The candle holders in those days were very unique. Small colored candles would fit into the holder and they would hang on the tree branches. One night my mother lit the candles and somehow a candle holder slipped off the branch and caught the tree on fire. My father and brothers managed to put out the fire. There were no more candles lit on the tree.

Our Christmas Eve program at our Lutheran Church was very special to everyone. I got new patent leather shoes and a new dress for the program. People came from miles around to see the program. The church would be packed and some people had to stand. After the service, there would be paper sacks passed around filled with hard candies and some nuts and an apple. We were so excited to get a bag. My father used to say that was a good way to get people to come to church.

The Christmas presents we received then seem meager to us now. Back then, they were like gold to us. I got a China doll and my new shoes and dress for the Christmas program. My brothers got warm shirts, new boots and gloves.

In those days, my mother made quilts and feather beds to keep us warm at nights. She could make so many things, sort of like Martha Stewart. My Christmas memories are filled with so much joy and happiness. I didn't find out what the word "stress" meant until I got older.

Mary Hilton, a Carson City resident, is semi-retired. She works two days a week at the Carson-Tahoe Hospital cafeteria. She has three children, two girls and one boy; five grandchildren and one great grandchild on the way.


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