Contributed photo
Andy Tumberg has told the Christmas story in Finnish for the past 35 years in NY Mills. This year, he passed the torch on to Tucker Henderson.

Now that the snow is covering the ground and it looks a lot more like a Minnesota Christmas than it did in December, I realized I ought to write this column. If you’re anything like me, memories of the holidays often linger for a while after each New Year.

This column is a lot like my Christmas letters and Christmas tree this year, both of which got a very late start in being dispatched for the holiday season. I haven’t remembered Christmas being so much work in the past, but it has also been very fulfilling to fill roles in both my church and at home to make the season merry and bright.

The white, snow-covered landscape that we have this January is certainly in stark contrast to the wet, dreary, sloppy weather we had towards the end of December and during our Christmas festivities. But hey, Jesus didn’t have snow to welcome Him to the world during that first Christmas either, did he?

The Finnish luminaries in the local cemeteries certainly suffered due to the rainy weather on Christmas Eve and there were quite a few less this year due to the rain. Some of them even had little roofs built for the peculiar occasion! It certainly wasn’t the usual pretty sight of glowing candles in a shoveled snowbank, however, I think the real beauty lies in the thought that each and every luminary that did make it out there represented loved ones and someone who still cares enough to honor their memories.

If you drove to Woodland Cemetery or thereabouts, I hope you passed Don and Vi Salo’s home and saw their annual display of JESUS spelled out in Christmas lights in their five front windows. I made it a point to drive home from work south on Highway 67 this year so that I could see it as many times as possible. It’s always a highlight during the holiday season to see their display.

I decided to host the Henderson Christmas Eve dinner this year which has been on hiatus for the past couple years. I had all of the ingredients and recipes for my potluck items written down weeks ahead of time, was slowly but surely working on getting the house ready for company, and even got the nine-foot Christmas tree assembled and decorated (with help from my sister).

Then I got sick. A week before Christmas. Ick.

I spent the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Christmas with a pounding headache, chills, and fatigue. I was still able to make it to work all of those days and was able to finish all of my work before the Christmas deadline. Towards the end of Wednesday, I was already starting to feel better, so as soon as I had some energy back, I got to work getting some of the bigger things done around the house, accepting that a few details might be left unfinished.

With three parties squeezed between December 23-25, I had a busy schedule to say the least. I got a haircut on the 22nd, a snack party at my sister’s in Deer Creek on the 23rd, and then finally, Christmas Eve had arrived.

This turned out to be an incredibly busy day between attending Christmas Eve service in the morning at my mom’s church near Frazee, cooking my potluck items while sharing the crowded kitchen, setting up a serving area for the food, keeping the wood stove stoked, and then in the evening, telling the Christmas story in Finnish at my own church.

That last one you might remember from an article I wrote last January about Finnish Christmas traditions in our area. If you don’t remember reading it, part of it detailed how Andy Tumberg has been telling the Christmas story in Finnish each Christmas Eve at the Apostolic Lutheran Church here in New York Mills for about the last 35 years. After the service was over in 2022, he asked if I would take over for him. Well, what an honor! Of course!

Well, this year rolled around and I think that responsibility was the only one that didn’t sneak up on me. I had been practicing reading through chapter 2 of Luke in my Finnish Bible occasionally throughout the year and really hit hard on practice towards December.

In the evening, Andy lent me his Finnish Bible that he has used for Christmas Eve for many years and I got up in front of the congregation and vocalized the story of the Nativity in Finnish, something that has probably been done in some form in this community every year since 1874 when the first Finns settled near Heinola. For someone who is still getting used to doing more public speaking, I think I did a fairly decent job. We sang Silent Night in both Finnish and English before we dismissed for the evening. What a perfect ending to the evening and what a perfect way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas Day kicked off with another church service, though this one was much more quiet and low-key. A good start to the day. My grandparents host a white elephant gift exchange on Christmas Day each year at their home at Olsen Shores on Rush Lake. When I arrived at their house, my grandma was worried about the food situation as she declared that she was way behind. Well, by the end of the night, she declared again that there was too much food! I think that means everything turned out all right in the end… it sure seemed like it!

She later remembered something that she had read which I think is a good reminder to all of us, especially those that might work a little too hard each holiday season to make sure everything gets pulled together for the family: even if the gifts aren’t wrapped, the food is late, and the tree is not decorated, it’s still Christmas.