Handel’s Messiah and Other Christmas Traditions

On Sunday, my younger brother and his wife helped us decorate our house for Christmas. We pulled up the old record player and put on the Christmas albums we grew up with: Roger Whittaker’s for Patrick, Elvis’s  for Denise, and Handel’s  Messiah for me and my brother, who mouthed the words as it played.

Every year growing up, I remember putting in the two blue double-sided cassettes into our player around Christmas time and listening to the sopranos and baritones belt out in opera like singing the more than 273 year old oratorio. I get teased by my friends now because it seems a little cerebral for decorating the tree but to me it is as integral part of Christmas as eggnog, bitterballen, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas re-runs on the 12 inch black and white TV (also… did you know the Grinch is really green, not a shade of grey?)

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My sister, Irene, opening gifts. I wasn’t kidding about the tree or the TV.


Perhaps my childhood Christmases didn’t fit in exactly with many of my American peers who grew up in the 80’s. The Dutch traditions were mixed with Alaskan survival into a unique combination. We put out our wooden shoes in front of our stove on St. Nicholas Day with carrots and water set out for his white horse. The threat of coal in our wooden shoes actually meant something to us, since we often burned coal in the stove after expeditions to pick it up off the beach.

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I’m sure my twenty-something year old brother was super excited about the puffy paints I used when I made him this shirt.

 We had always had  a beautifully decorated 6 foot swamp spruce that almost touched the ceiling of the log homestead cabin. We hiked out to cut it under the telephone line rightaway and hauled it back on a sled (an added bonus was that it matched Charlie Brown’s almost perfectly). On Christmas Eve when we opened presents,  Dutch and Alaskan treats such as stroopwafel, speculooss, wildberry jam and smoked salmon would be loaded on the table side by side with the traditional ginger bread and cheese and crackers .

12-2-2014 5;39;16 PM

Yes, I’m Santa and I stole Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree.

We bundled up on Christmas Eve and drove in our van (when I was very young, it was a Volkswagen) to the candle light service at our church for a sermon and carol signing. I always hoped we got to sing Silent Night when I was younger and O Come, O Come Emmanuel when I hit my teens because Rebecca St. James made it cool on her Christmas album.

Now in our home, we have even more happily mismatched traditions: fondue and ornaments for St. Nicholas Day; Elvis, Roger Whittaker, and the Messiah in the background; PJ’s opened on Christmas Eve; and stockings with an orange in the toe and piled ridiculously high to be opened on Christmas morning. There even has been occasion when bitterballen has graced the Christmas spread along side shortbread and peanut butter fudge.

What traditions did you grow up with and how do you mesh new traditions with your old ones?

For Unto Us A Child is Born

Unto Us a Son is Given

And the Government Shall be Upon His Shoulders

And His Name Shall Be Called

Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God!

The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace

Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God!



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