Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Swedish Christmas Day

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .
From my uncles’ journals . . .

Grandma, grands and aunties.

Grandma and the grands.
Uncle Roy: After unwrapping our presents, we stayed up late with our new toys or board games (Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers) and snacked on nuts (Brazil nuts, hazel, nuts, walnuts and peanuts), Japanese oranges, chocolates and Mama’s delicious cookies. Late to bed, tired and happy, there was no desire to rise early on Christmas morning. Perhaps the Scandinavian Christmas Eve tradition had its origin from the desire of parents to sleep a little later on Christmas morning!
Uncle Don: One Christmas, we received a Monopoly game. We began to play without reading the rules beforehand.
When we lit on an opponent’s property and couldn’t pay the rent, we would offer one of our properties for sale which would be enthusiastically bid on by the other players in the game.
By the rules we should have mortgaged our property to the bank at half its value.
Anyway, as I recall, no one was able to gain an upper hand so the game went on until 4 am when we were too tired to play.
Everyone went to bed with the game still unfinished and all participants still in!
Uncle Leif: However, there were chores to be done so we couldn’t sleep in for too long. Mother was always up bright and early, preparing Christmas Day breakfast, including lots of cold fish (herring and anchovies), hard boiled eggs and, of course, cinnamon buns. Mother had filleted and pickled the herring a few weeks prior to Christmas. Anchovies were small fish (4 inches long), pickled whole. Probably to shock visitors, some of the boys ate the head and all!
The hosting of Christmas and New Year’s Day dinners (served mid-afternoon) rotated among the Berg families of Pete and Ellen [my parents], Sigvard and Erna [My uncle and his wife] and Henrik and Anna [Another uncle and his wife]. It was a joyous time spent visiting, playing card games, checkers, etc.
The only time liquor was served in the home was if guests were present, as on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults would take their whiskey straight from a shot glass, prior to the main meal.
Uncle Roy: Two enormous meals were served, one at noon and another at about 7 pm. Featured were roast turkey or goose with dressing, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings, finished off with mince pie, fruitcake and cookies.
I remember being stuffed so full that I could hardly move, but I couldn’t compete with Bern and Leonard Rasmussen [a family friend] who were the easy winners of the big eaters’ contest.
Fortunately, between dinner and supper, we had a few outdoor chores (milking cows and feeding animals) which relieved some of the pressure on our stomachs before returning for more food (GROAN! GROAN!)

Pickled Herring (Grandma Berg’s recipe)
Jar of pickled herring fillets without the cucumber pickles [They can be purchased at your local grocery store]
Cut the herring into bite-sized pieces and place a layer in a glass bowl.
Cover with thinly-sliced red onions.
Follow with alternate layers of herring and red onions until the herring have all been used.
Brine: ½ cup water
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 Teaspoon mixed spices
Boil brine for 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Strain to remove spices.
Pour over herring and onion layers.
Let marinate for several days before eating. Note—do not sample early!

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
Daughter of Ishmael is up for the big award: Book of the year!
I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Swedish Christmas Eve

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .

My mom and Dad with her parents and three of her brothers.
From Uncle Leif’s journal (Mother’s youngest brother):
Christmas on our farm was a very special occasion, and was celebrated according to Swedish traditions. The preparations were a lot of work for Mother, but she often said that Christmas was the happiest time of the year. She was always pleased to have all the family home for Christmas.
Mother would bring out the fine china and silverware for the festive season from Christmas eve through New Year’s Day. Great care was taken as she carefully transferred these exquisite dishes from the glass china cabinet to the dining room table. Only during these special occasions were meals served in the dining room.
The round dining room table was expanded with extra leaves, then covered with a special white linen tablecloth which her mother had woven back in Sweden. Two white candles complemented the tablecloth.
Traditionally, the Christmas Eve meal was to be all white (Lutefisk, mashed potatoes, canned peas in white sauce, turnip or boiled carrots, white bread, milk and rice pudding), but Mother included some colorful home grown vegetables. The main dish, of course, was the scrumptious lutefisk (Pickled cod fish) served with melted butter and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper.
I’m not sure how the lutefisk was prepared other than being wrapped in a dish towel and steamed to the right ‘texture’. If it turned jellylike, it was not right! Would you believe there are actually some family members who do not appreciate the delicacy of lutefisk?
The meal was not complete without dessert, a large bowl of rice pudding covered with fresh, thick cream. An almond nut was always mixed into the pudding. By tradition, the person who ate the almond would be the next to marry. Fortunately, one was not compelled to marry, otherwise I would have been married several times before I was sixteen years old!
Another custom we followed was to be formally dressed for meals served in the dining room, with shirts and ties for Dad and the boys and best dresses for Mother and Enes.

After supper, everyone pitched in with washing the dishes, putting the leftover food away, and getting prepared for the arrival of Santa Claus. The youngest members of the family checked periodically to see if Santa had dropped off the gifts in the sleigh near the front steps. Finally, presents arrived and were passed out and enjoyed late into the evening. Of all the many joys experienced in childhood, none can compare to the joy of receiving Christmas presents from Santa!

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
Daughter of Ishmael is up for the big award: Book of the year!
I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas: Swedish Style!

Mother’s parents emigrated from Sweden in the early part of the 20th century.
These are the Swedish/Canadian Christmas customs passed on to their family . . .

From Uncle Roy:
Preparation for Christmas began quite some time before the day.
Lutfisk and herring were ordered early. Lutefisk—cod cured in a lye (sodium hydroxide) solution—was bought tightly packed in a wooden box. It did not require refrigeration, though detractors felt that its smell and texture might have been improved by this practice.
Whole herring (Sill in Swedish) was cured in brine and was available in wooden pails about a half-gallon in size.
Several weeks before Christmas, Mama would fillet the herring, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and store them in vinegar with chopped onions, cucumber pickles, dill and cloves—delicious!
Roll mops of today, approximate Sill but do not equal its favour.
Mama also prepared large quantities of several kinds of Swedish cookies, fruit cake, special breads and cinnamon buns.
About a week before Christmas, Papa bought a spruce tree in Duchess or Brooks. There were no native evergreens on the prairie where we lived. We set the tree up in the living room and decorated it with ornaments, ribbons and real candles (although they were never lit for fear of fire).
Of course, Santa Claus brought the presents. We began to suspect that Santa had some help when large parcels arrived from Eaton’s via the mail train. After school, we brought these parcels home but we never saw them opened. They were whisked into the parlor which was out of bounds with the doors closed for a month of more before Christmas. Papa would sequester himself in the parlor for a day or two before Christmas, engaged in some mysterious activity.

Tomorrow Christmas Eve, Swedish style.

This is the BIG ONE!
And I need your help . . .
Daughter of Ishmael is up for the big award: Book of the year!
I need your vote!
It's simple and REALLY effective.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas in a One-Room Schoolhouse

Photo Credit
Christmas in a One-Room Schoolhouse.
From the journal of Uncle Leif (Mother’s youngest brother)

Preparations for the Christmas concert often started the first week of November. It was a big undertaking for the teacher to maintain the regular school classes plus organize the rehearsals for the concert.
I remember one teacher who broke down and cried because of the lack of progress made by students in learning their parts.
A temporary stage was erected out of railroad ties and box-car, grain-bin panels. One of the area farmers hauled the ties and panels from the local grain elevator with a team and hay rack.
On the day of the concert, students’ desks were placed at the back of the one-room school. Next the old wooden benches stored in the basement were brought up, dusted off and placed in rows. Gas lamps were filled with fuel and the mantles checked. A large spruce tree was set up and decorated.
Finally, everything was ready for the big event.
The old schoolhouse was packed to overflowing.
With all the students on the stage, the concert opened with O Canada and a selection of Christmas Carols. Then followed plays, even some years, Dicken’s Christmas Carol. The student with the best memory would have the part of Scrooge.
Interspersed throughout were individual recitations, singing and the playing of musical instruments.
Even though the parts were often delivered in a monologue with little expression, the audience, sprinkled with adoring parents, applauded with enthusiasm.
The highlight of the evening was the visit from Santa Claus carrying a large bag of toys for all the students and pre-school children. Each student, as well as many visiting children, received a bag of candy and nuts, as well as an apple, and a Japan-grown orange available only at Christmas. What a treat!
Following the concert, the adults removed the stage and most of the benches in preparation for the dance.
Music was supplied by any locals who played an instrument. Everyone, including the children, had a great time dancing or just bouncing around to the beat of the music.
At midnight or later, lunch brought by the ladies, was served.
Finally, babies who had been sleeping on piles of clothes were dressed.
Families gathered themselves together for the trip home—tired by happy.
Nothing could compare to Christmas time in a one-room school!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Welcome Christmas!

Five years ago, we welcomed Christmas . . .

Last night, we invited a bunch of the grandkids over to help Gramma and Grampa bring in Christmas.
It was . . . fun.
Though many of said grandkids suffer from an extremely short attention span.
We did manage to get the tree up, largely due to the efforts of one daughter-in-law.
And decorated.
Gramma was over digging through the boxes.
Alternately exclaiming and wiping tears.
As always, getting out the decorations is a trip down memory lane.
Old and fragile works of art made by little fingers from as long as thirty-five years ago.
Many no longer able to be safely hung on the tree, but enjoyed only from their places of refuge.
For example, popcorn on a string doesn't last.
Just FYI.
I love Christmas!
This is what we finally managed to accomplish . . .
Gramma's Village

You can't see them all, but there are 22 stockings there. And more on the way . . .

What's Christmas without a mantel . . .

. . . or Santa's laundry?
Christmas Buddies                      
And just because we're Tolleys (Yeah, I don't get it either . . .)

And the main event!

And then I got to sleep with Santa!

Don't you just love Christmas?!
Gearing up to do the same tonight.
Wish us luck . . .

Monday, December 4, 2017

South 'Escher'ton Common

In Edmonton, there is a place
That used to be a field.
Where once stood crops, now people race
And stores have been revealed.

It saves us from the ‘Downtown’ crowd;
            The spinning, seething mob.
The commute long, the sirens loud,
            Where people weave and bob.

‘South Edmonton Common’ is its name,
            And it can cure your ills,
‘S for buying things of every fame,
            From basic through to ‘frills’.

But though it has a lot of stores
            In its quarter-section size,
It’s also known for something more -
            Its streets. I will apprise:

Straight streets? A few, I will admit,
            But mostly curved, you’ll find.
The unfamiliar driver sits,
            Or drives like one is blind.

With curves and twists to stupefy,
            And blocks and blocks contrived,
You’ll wish you were a bird, that flies,
            So you can sight. Then dive.

Though there’s beauty - bright, serene,
            With tons of treasures hid,
What truly needles me is this:
What’s wrong with a grid?!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.

And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

And next week, from my friends, and me, 
Our Happiest Family Memory!

Sunday, December 3, 2017


Made ya look . . .
She was home alone on a Friday night?
This woman with five kids, one husband, and a very limited budget?
How could this be?!
Therein hangs a tale/tradition . . .
I’m sure most of you have heard of the giant Costco store chain.
Well, perhaps you didn’t know that Costco is famous, not only for quality merchandise, but for handing out said merchandise.
One bite at a time.
It’s true.
You can wander through the acres and acres of store, perusing the shelves - piled, quite literally, to the rafters - and on nearly every ‘street’ corner, encounter someone in a red uniform, cutie hairnet and gloves, handing out sweet little tastes of deliciousness.
In a white, paper cup.
Okay, so I admit that not everything is deliciousness.
The person handing out the pickled asparagus usually only has one person in line.
Moving on . . .
You can shop - and graze - to your heart’s content.
And in under an hour, your tummy and shopping basket are comfortably full.
So back to my friend, blissfully home alone in a quiet house on a Friday night . . .
How did she do it?
Her husband, may his name be praised, loaded their five children into the car every Friday night and carted them all off to Costco.
Their budget didn’t allow for much shopping.
But the kids had the time of their lives sampling the wares.
One each.
Everyone had a blast and the whole outing was, in a word, economical.
And he’d been doing this nearly every Friday since the first was born!
Trust me, it isn’t easy to find outings for large families that don’t break the bank.
(Our brood and the West Edmonton Mall Waterpark have a history.)
Ingenuity, opportunity and the desperation of a flat pocketbook all combined to create a fun family evening.
That’s how great traditions are started.

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