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Traditions Are a Blessing

The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Articles --


Christmas traditions reign central to North American life. And for good reason – this season of giving to others also gives us so much. Along with the birth of our Savior, Christmas brings the joy of gathering with family and friends around foods, music and customs that warm heart and memory long after the event itself. More than just markers of life and time passing, our Christmas memories teach us to hope and savor God’s blessings of faith and family. This Home & Family section recalls the significance of Christmas traditions, the thoughtful gestures of friends and family and the joyful spirit of giving that envelops the holiday. These traditions, too, are a blessing of the heavenly Father to us all.

Our Twelve Days Before Christmas

Janet Stonelake | The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Article --


I remember the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” from my youth. Each Christmas, I have heard this song and my children have learned it too. Now, since the Christmas season in 2015 this song has taken on new meaning and holds new memories for me.


In 2015, Christmas was fast approaching, and I was not looking forward to it. My husband of 39 years passed away on May 3, 2014. This would be the second Christmas without him. This second year had been harder for me than the first. I wanted to skip all holidays and enter a new year already. If only I could bury myself under the blankets and skip this season, waking up next year, I thought.


December 13 that year was a Sunday. That evening the boys and I got home from a weekend in Prescott and saw something in front of our garage door. “What is that?’ they asked in unison. One of them hopped out of the car to move it out of the way so I could park inside the garage.


“It’s a present!” “Who is it from?” I asked. Once inside, we read the tag. It said, “On the first day of Christmas someone gave to me… a star to shine brightly.”


The next day there was another gift by the front door when the boys got home from school. We read the tag, “On the second day of Christmas someone gave to me two jars of sugar body scrub, one peppermint and one lavender.” When I opened them to smell them, I saw a very small fingerprint dragged through the top of the peppermint one. That melted my heart; the person that gave this gift had a small child.


The theme still did not occur to me until the third day, when yet another gift was left on our doorstep. Three candle jars. It then occurred that this might be happening until the twelfth day of Christmas. The boys watched and waited every day for the next gift. The gifts didn’t arrive at the same time every day, they varied. The boys were certain they could “catch” the gift giver in the very act.


Watching the excitement in the boys lifted my spirits. Early one morning, I was reclining in the chair with my first cup of coffee and a sudoku puzzle book when I heard crunching gravel from a car coming up the driveway. “I could catch them right now!” I thought. But I stayed in the chair and listened. I decided I did not want to ruin the secret. When the boys woke up, I told them that I heard a car earlier and to go check for the gift. There was no gift…yet. It had been the neighbor. No gift, yet I was struck with surprise that I was able to feel happy; I felt excitement for life.


The gifts came daily; two dozen caramel rolls and prune tarts, a Pandora charm with a five-pointed star on it, six handmade soaps, a seven-piece Teavana set, eight pasties, nine remote votive candles….


On the tenth day, the boys and I came home to a dark house. As we walked in from the garage there was a red glow coming down the hallway from the kitchen. I proceeded with concern, wondering about the source of that light. When we got into the kitchen there was a large bin with a warning light attached. Peering in, we saw ten chicks!


“What are we going to do with THOSE?” I asked. The boys were not concerned about what to do with chicks. They were so excited! I didn’t realize how much – until later. I watched the boys feed and nurture the chicks, and as chicks grew into chickens, we turned a horse stable into a chicken coop. Necessary care and feeding took time, energy and loyal affection. The boys had a purpose, they were needed for this task.


The eleventh gift was a metal wind chime with eleven rods hanging from it. The twelfth day, Christmas Eve, we came home to a vase of twelve beautiful red roses.


I never discovered the sender or senders, and I like to keep it that way. We were able to make it through the second Christmas season without Dad, when beforehand it had looked so bleak to us. Those twelve gifts before Christmas are loving gestures I will never forget. Since that year, I want to be on the giving end, bringing joy to another who suffers, to help someone in grief get through the difficult weeks before Christmas.

Santa Lucia Lights Path to Rockford’s Christmas Dinner

Natalie Byman | The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Article --


Lights off. Candles lit. Eyes wide with the spectacle of light. I watched as Santa Lucia strolled, with statuesque solemnity, the path to Christmas light and joy. She led the 176 guests in singing and fellowship at Rockford Church Christmas Dinner.


The annual fundraiser evening was held on December 11, 2021. I participated in this event twice since I moved to Minnesota in 2019. After the relative quiet of Christmas season 2020, I found it especially wonderful to be part of the planning. With great excitement I anticipated this evening, one of many 2021 Christmas gatherings and musical events held in southern Minnesota Laestadian congregations.


The fundraising planning committee met in October, and we quickly settled on a Scandinavian theme with a Swedish Santa Lucia focus, serving Swedish desserts and including a Santa Lucia processional in the sanctuary.


The work divided and delegated, my group’s task was to plan and prepare decorations and the choir outfits, and although it felt like there were many setbacks and dead ends as we explored different options, I learned and enjoyed working with the others in the process. I also sang in the choir.


The Santa Lucia tradition is old and cherished in the Nordic culture. And it’s not surprising, since Santa Lucia’s Day arrives on December 13, just as the people of northern Europe are living the darkest days of the year. The Lucia custom is observed in Sweden and Finland to welcome sunlight to the earth and the light of Christmas to our hearts. Here in Rockford it was interesting to learn of this tradition and to sing a Swedish song.


We woke up to a fresh blanket of snow on the day of the dinner, which added to the festive feeling as we worked with greenery and candles and the kitchen crew prepared the dinner and desserts. In the afternoon, the choir reviewed the program logistics, practicing walking in and out with the long skirts and candles required for the Santa Lucia procession.


Then the guests began to arrive, and we had time for fellowship before serving the dinner. The 176 guests were served efficiently with a large serving crew. After dinner everyone moved into the sanctuary for the program.


The choir walked in humming the Santa Lucia song, followed by Santa Lucia with her crown of candles. The dim lighting in the room allowed for focus on the meaning of the words of the mostly familiar Christmas songs. After the program, we all returned to the dining room for dessert and fellowship.


At the end of the evening, I reflected on how special it is to have these opportunities to gather as a congregation, and it felt good to serve my congregation. Even in this way the light that Lucia brings – the light of Christmas – glows in my heart.


Christmas in a New Country

Eija Mikkola | The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Article --


It was the late fall of 1957. Mom and Dad had emigrated from Finland to the country of Mom’s birth, Canada, that past July. A suitcase full of baby clothes, two babies, hearts full of hopes and a large travel debt were their possessions.


The first night in their own apartment had been spent sleeping on the floor on top of their coats. A bag as a pillow. The baby, 3 months old, slept in the bassinet supplied by the airlines on their flight to Canada. The 1-year-old, well, she slept at least.


Christmas was coming – their third together and first in a strange new land. Dad’s first job had ended with the company going belly up on pay day, so no pay check. Luckily, he landed a new job with the city. A few weeks before Christmas, came the first pink slip. The city laid off its workers. Dad got one too. Not speaking English or understanding it, he did not realize that he would be rehired in January.


Then came Dad’s last day of work before Christmas. He noticed a small tree by the roadside. They would have a tree for Christmas. One of the full-time city workers saw him carry off the tree. He said, “Christmas tree anyhow,” the first words that Dad was to learn.


Dad also understood the compassion in his coworker’s words. Yes, regardless of their poorness, Christmas would come. At home, Mom had been able to get the basic Finnish Christmas fare – carrots, rutabaga, potatoes, rice, milk and coffee from Tullan Kassu’s Finnish grocery store. Simple, familiar comfort food, and a tree decorated with a bit of tinsel.


By Christmas of 1958, God had blessed the family with a job, a new place to live and a new baby, making it a happy family. Over the following few years, we moved more times and a Christmas photo documented each new home. And now finally, a home of their own. Our landlady had asked Dad and Mom if they would consider buying the house they were renting on rent-to-own terms. Dad says that was truly a great opportunity for them and was grateful for the generous offer.


Christmas of 1963 stands out as a strong memory in our family. We talk of occurrences that were “bH” or “aH” – before or after the birth of our sister Hilkka. Mom suffered a heart attack while expecting her and spent Christmas in the hospital. Dad tells me that Christmas Eve that year he will not forget! While at work as a maintenance worker for the City of Sudbury, his crew was doing sewer repairs. It had rained a lot that fall. Dad says, “I was cautious down under the street for my job was to fill buckets that were then hauled up to the surface. I listened to the sounds of running water. All of a sudden, I heard a ROAR! I started running as fast as I could toward the manhole stairs yelling the whole way for others to get out of the way too. As I grabbed the stair rail, my bucket was swept away in the flood. It was a close call. You could have been fatherless.”


After leaving the job site, Dad had some stops on the way home, to make bakery for Christmas foodstuffs was one. He tells me that on coming home his neighbor who had promised to babysit us had bailed early, leaving us with cold beans – “And you kids weren’t used to such fare.” Christmas supper was the traditional one, only this year it came from the store.


Dad recalls, “Santa came after the meal and I had to leave you kids with your toys while I went to see Mom in the hospital.”


In my own memory, I recall nothing bad or sad from that Christmas of 1963. We three children had learned to be brave. I only remember the gift I received, a toy stove. We don’t have many photos of that Christmas – Mom the photographer was away in Sudbury Memorial Hospital.


Many more Christmas times were spent in the Sudbury area till Mom and Dad moved to Richmond Hill, and then to Bradford, north of Toronto. Now Mom is gone – awaiting Christmas on the shores of heaven. She passed away in 2019.


“God has blessed our life,” is Dad’s memory of the goodness of God throughout our family’s life.


Our Congregation’s Sauna Project

Evan Siltala | The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Article --


Who wouldn’t want a sauna in their yard?


In 2012, a Cokato Laestadian Lutheran Church group spear-headed by Angela Meredith decided to plan and host a Scandinavian Bazaar & Bakery, modeled after what the Toronto congregation had started in prior years. With many prayers and a boatload of ambition the first annual bazaar was underway and heating up.


Shortly after the decision was made to move forward with the bazaar, Travis and Sara Byman visited with us about making a larger item to which local tradesmen might contribute. After throwing around a few ideas, we kept coming back to the question of “What is more Scandinavian than a sauna?” And with that, the sauna project was “all-systems-go.”


The first year was one of research and development. It was challenging for Travis and me to not build to residential housing standards, as we are both in the construction industry and that was just the way things got done. After that we were able to pare it down, simplify the methods, thereby saving us quite a bit of time in the process. This didn’t hinder the quality of the finished product, but in some ways even enhanced it. From the first sauna to the tenth sauna, the time involved was almost cut in half. The sauna for 2021 was built in roughly four weeks, with a small crew working on it a few nights a week and all four Saturdays.


As of this writing, Cokato church volunteers have built ten saunas. No two have been the same, with different details added or removed based on feedback or comments from congregation members or from those guests coming for the bazaar. Over the years it has been fun to hear the comments, see the interest and gain insight into what people like or what they remember of saunas from years past.


As for the design, our only limitation was keeping it within legal road restrictions for delivery to its destination after the bazaar was over. Other than that, the design was mostly original and custom, often with various donated materials, but having a general idea which route we wanted to take. This spontaneity is the preferred process since no customer looks over our shoulder micro-managing the effort. As long as the sauna had a steam room and a dressing room – and on the last few, a porch – they all produced steam and thus were deemed acceptable. The design team must have done a respectable job with their design because, as I recall, we never had one returned stamped “Delivery declined.”


On the construction end of the project, once the shell is up and the windows installed, tradesmen take on various tasks of their specialty as their schedules permit. The more men contributing time, the less and lighter work for all. Any help is so much appreciated. Though we may struggle at times in finding time and volunteers to complete these projects, and we may wonder how life’s duties and obligations will be met, whatever they may be, God has provided for our needs in many ways.


Being involved in most of the sauna projects over the years, I have an opinion on the use of several details. First, I will now always put a back door out of the sauna in any sauna I build, to cool off without having to traipse through the dressing room – it’s just a must for me. Second, we put a step down in a few saunas, from the dressing room to the sauna, which ended up being a nice feature. Two other details that we incorporated in a few saunas are a porch and a large window in the sauna. Both have seemed to be popular judging by comments at the bazaar.


As a fundraising project, the sauna has been fun to manage, design and build. From the standard structure with a gable roof of year one, to the timber structures of the middle years, to the more modern designs of the last few, it has evolved in an interesting way. When the wood stove, made by Rory Siltala, was installed and fired up, we knew that that year’s project was complete. One small part of the bazaar was ready and we could then help with other tasks.


In reflecting on the years since we began making this borrowed Christmas bazaar tradition our own, It has been truly amazing to see God’s blessings in this endeavor. I smile when I think how God has guided our bazaar and turned it into so much more than we as a congregation had envisioned. This Scandinavian Bazaar weekend has brought so many guests through the doors of our church, and they marvel at the love they feel, the joy they see and the celebration of Christmas through treasured cultural traditions of Scandinavian lands. I have been moved to see so many visitors come from far and wide, from across town and from sister congregations, fill the sanctuary to standing room only, to listen to God’s Word and message of salvation through the beautiful singing voices of the children and adults. I feel, as many visitors have also commented, “Now Christmas is here.”


Advent Services in Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado

Ann Byman | The Voice of Zion December 2022 - Home and Family Article --


Our congregation, Roaring Fork Valley, is fortunate to have active committees that coordinate events for members of all ages. Throughout the year, discussions, presentations and gatherings such as Ski Days bring believers together to be uplifted in faith. Along with our weekly service schedule, our local board plans special services such as Palm Sunday Services, Fall Services, and Advent Services so we can be strengthened by the hearing of God’s Word.


For me, all of our special services have been blessed and memorable, but Advent Services weekend stands out as a special weekend for our congregation. We ask a visiting speaker to serve our congregation for this weekend of musical events, services and gatherings. The weekend opens with an adults’ musical evening, where through voice, instrument and spoken devotion, we are reminded of the promise of Christ’s birth. A powerful part of the evening is the final song, where the choir members encircle the sanctuary and, in parts, sing “Silent Night.” The singing is so beautiful that I wonder that the singing in heaven might be even more divine than this!


The following evening, Sunday school children participate in the annual Sunday School Program. Through recitations, songs, and devotion they proclaim the message of our Savior’s birth. It is especially touching to see the pre-school and kindergarten students recite their short messages with excitement and sing their songs with pure love and faith. The Sunday School students standing together at the front reminds us that our kingdom is one of hope and promise; these children represent the future of Zion. Such abundance of heavenly treasures is in our midst!


The following day we have services in the morning, followed by lunch at home. We don’t yet have a dining hall at our church, so meals during winter special events are held in the homes. We gather again in the afternoon for closing services.


We can marvel at how God gives words to the servants to edify as He knows best. By the end of a busy three days, we may be physically fatigued, especially those with young children. Nonetheless our hearts are refreshed and our souls nourished. Roaring Fork Valley congregation welcomes all to join us for this festive weekend in celebration of the birth of our Savior.


Having moved to the Roaring Fork Valley six years ago, we feel blessed to have been placed in the care of this loving congregation, where God’s Word is spoken, the gospel message is preached, and our hearts are united.



Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you suppose humans love annual traditions and especially those at Christmas?

  2. What traditions might you like to add to your family Christmas and why?

  3. What might be the most important element in our decision to add or drop a tradition?

  4. Many Christmastime traditions are steeped in collective memory, of times and people gone by. What special holiday memories do you cherish?


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