Holly’s Christmas Night

Holly clutch Christina’s arm as they rode side-by-side in her dad’s pickup truck. Christina smiled back at her. The warmth of happiness filled her like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold, snowy day. Holly leaned over to lay her head on Christina’s shoulder. The last few months with Christina and the villagers were better than any wish or dream Holly ever had.

She loved the villagers and visited them as many times as Christina would allow.  She closed her eyes to bring up all their faces and tried to remember their names. Her favorites were the ten-year-old twins, Kel and Uda.

She felt sorry for Kel and Uda who had begged and pleaded to go along. “If my grandparents or my uncle’s family saw you, they’d keel over and die. And Clara Bell, my grandma’s cat, would chase you around and eat you up.”

“But we’ll be good,” Kel pleaded.

“And we like cats,” Uda added.

Kel placed his fists on his waist and glared at Uda. “How can you say you like cats when you’ve never seen one?”

“I’ve seen plenty.”

“No you haven’t.”

“Yes, I have.”

“Na ah.”

“Yeah ha.”

Holly fell to their persistence. She attempted to convince their father, Baldur, to allow them to come along. But his firm “No” led Holly to bid Kel and Uda a Merry Christmas and made a hasty retreat. She ran to the kitchen to help Christina pack her home-made Christmas cookies to take along to the party.

The truck radio played, ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’, while they were enroot to her grandparent’s house for a Christmas night dinner. In Ian’s nervousness, he sang a very off key version of the song.

“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way …”


“… to carry the sleigh –.”



Holly groaned. “You’re hurting my ear drums. Sometimes dads are so weird”. Holly fret that his bad singing would push Christina away. Holly hoped her father wouldn’t take too long to ask Christina to marry him.

Christina bit her bottom lip, but smiled at Ian.

Holly knew that her cousin, Marley, will be there tonight. Holly remembered what Marley had said. “If Uncle Ian waits too long Christina will find another guy.”

But they met three months ago. How long did it take adults to fall and love and get married? She knew her father loved Christina. They were always holding hands and kissing and whispering secrets to each other. Didn’t that mean they were love?

Maybe she should ask Grandma, but not during the Christmas dinner. Grandma could tell her dad to hurry and ask Christina to marry him so she wouldn’t find another guy.

Holly took a deep breath and smelled the chocolate and peppermint candy she and Christina had made for tonight’s dinner. The wrapped tin box made the treat special. Baking treats with Christina was now her newest Christmas memory. Marley said that Christmas memories were the best.

“What are you grinning about?” Ian asked.

“Grampa likes pretty girls. He’s going to really like Christina because she is the prettiest. Don’t you think she is the prettiest, dad?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

Christina gave a small tsked, “I bet you say that to all your old girlfriends.”

“Dad didn’t have any old girlfriends.”

Ian snapped a stern look to Holly.

Is saying a man had no girlfriends to his new girlfriend a bad thing? Again, will this affect any chances for Christina to want to marry her dad? Holly decided to talk to Marley about this.

Holly glanced out the window and spotted a girl and a boy throwing snowballs at each other. That scene made her think about Kel and Uda. Those two could be very naughty. She hoped they wouldn’t cause her dad to not ask Christina to marry him. Sometimes her dad rolled his eyes and shook his head when those two got into mischief.

Ian cleared his throat. “Here we are.”

Christina leaned forward with a nervous look on her face.

Holly patted her arm. “Don’t worry Christina. My Uncle Jake and my cousin Marley will be here. You already met them. You’ll like everyone else.”

Ian winked. “And everyone will love you, guarantied.”

“Sure – the girlfriend,” Christina said in a nervous tone. She took a deep breath. “Thank you, Holly.” She touched Holly’s face. “Don’t worry about me. This is your special day; your eighth birthday. I am very happy to be spending the day with you and your family. It’s just – I hope your family will accept me.”

“Are you kidding? They will be crazy about you. Just like me and Holly are. Right kiddo?”

“Right dad.”

They got out of the truck and walked to the door. “Grandpa put up a lot of Christmas light this year. Their house looks like a gingerbread house,” Holly said as she stopped to look around and admire all the decorations.

“They must have worked really hard to get all of this done. I thought they were out of town visiting a relative. Maybe they had help from Santa’s elves,” Christina said.

Ian and Holly laughed at her joke. Now that they knew the secret of the village, the thought of Nils or Baldur helping put up these lights was comical. “We did this before they left and in warmer weather. I’m afraid I was the elf who had to help,” Ian said. “I just hope they don’t ask this elf to help take all those lights down.”

The front door opened. Her grandparents welcomed them in with hugs and kisses. Ian introduced Christina. “Ho, ho, Jake was right. She is a lovely lady.”

Holly latched onto Christina’s elbow and watched her turn red. She let go, kicked off her boots and strolled into the living room while her grandparents talk with Christina.

The smell turkey and other delicious things her grandma had cooked wafted through the air. Evergreen boughs and lights strung across the archway of every room. She spotted the bulging Christmas stockings hung on the fireplace mantle. The Christmas tree stood in its usual place in the corner of the dining room. Grandma liked to put the tree to observe from the kitchen.

Grandma held Christina’s hand. “I’m so sorry we didn’t get to meet you at Jake’s house at Thanksgiving. We were unexpectedly called away to my brother’s house.”

“I was sorry not to meet you as well,” Christina replied.

A deep voice called out from the kitchen. “There! I told you Christina was real mother.” Uncle Jake walked into the room.

Ian groaned

Jake turned to Holly. “And a happy late birthday to you.” He held a present in his hand while he spun it back and forth like a steering wheel.

Holly took the present and hugged him. “Thank you, Uncle Jake. My birthday was only two days ago, so it’s not too late.”

The sound of feet thundering up the basement stairs drew her attention. Her cousins Marley and Mark and her Aunt Kelly charged into the room to greet them. They all talked at once and Holly hoped they did not scare Christina with all the noise. She felt reassured when she saw her smile.

Mark stepped in front of Holly. “What did you get for Christmas?”

“Lots of good stuff. Nicholas…I mean Santa Claus, was very good to me.”

“Did Santa visit your house?”

“Oh, you can say he did.” Christina said with a chuckle.

“What a beautiful sweater,” Grandma said as she smoothed her hand on Holly sweater and gave her another hug. “Did Santa bring you that?”

Holly took hold of the bottom of the sweater and pulled it out. She looked at the deep forest green yarn, mesh. Narrow bands of maroon yarn wrapped around the bottom, sleeve cuffs and collar. “I got this from Ola and –.” Holly caught herself and gave Christina a cautious glance. She stopped speaking about the villagers before the magic would prevent her to speak any further.

Christina smiled back and gave her a wink of reassurance.

“Who’s Ola, Ian?” Grandpa asked in a suspicious tone.

“Well, she’s –.” he stopped in mid sentence as Christina spoke up.

“Don’t you remember, Ian? Ola was the name of the woman behind the counter who sold you that sweater?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s right.”

Jake frowned. “Wait, wait. You told Holly the name of the woman who sold that to you and not tell her Santa made it.”

“I guess that slipped out when she opened the present.”

“Well, that certainly took the magic out of that present.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, dear brother. There most definitely lots of magic at our Christmas morning.”

“Shhh, dad.” Holly hissed.

Before anyone else had a chance to continue their line on Christmas magic, Aunt Kelly took hold of Christina’s arm and led her into the living room. “How did Ian manage to snag such a beautiful woman?” Everyone else followed them.

Ian entered the room. “Hey, what do you mean? How did I manage to snag her?” Ian raised his eyebrows in a comical look and put his fingertips on his chest. “Naturally, she was attracted to my good looks and charms from the start.”

“Oh, yeah, right Ian. And Santa Claus is real.” Uncle Jake said sarcastically as he laughed and slapped Ian on the back.

“Uncle Jake. How did you know Santa Claus was real and — oops.”

Uncle Jake groaned and put his hand over his mouth. He bent down to Holly’s level. “Of course Santa Claus is real. Kids who don’t believe never get anything for Christmas.”

Holly watched Christina and her dad to check their reactions. Her dad shook his head.

Aunt Kelly bent down to Holly. “Uncle Jake was being silly – again.”

Holly’s cousin, Mark jumped into the crowd. “Grandpa, guess what I got for Christmas. Take a guess. Go on.”

“Ooh, let me guess. A G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip?”

Mark laughed. “No. I got a dog.”

“You did?”

Kelly tsked and shook her head. “I couldn’t resist. It’s a little Springer spaniel. It is the cutest thing.”

“Yeah,” Jake said to Ian while imitating a spastic little girl, “it was the cutest thing.”

Marley folded her arms. “Yeah, cute. It just jumps around, poops and sleeps. It’s a pain like my little brother.”

“You know you like him,” Mark said to Marley and then turned to his grandfather. “I brought her along with us. Can I bring him in?”

“Well, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. He and Clara Bell might not get along.” He turned to Kelly. “Will she get too cold in the car?”

“We brought a dog carrier to keep him in.”

Christina jumped, then froze. “Oh!” A white, long-haired cat stood on two legs and placed her paws on Christina’s leg. The cat turned its head and jumped down to sniff at Christina’s purse on the floor near her chair.

Grandma reached for the cat. “Shame on you. Don’t pester Christina.” The cat struggled to get out of her hands and continued to stare at Christina’s purse.

“Maybe I’m making her nervous because I’m a stranger.”

“She just needs to get to know you.”

Grandpa reached for the cat. “I’ll take that fur-ball. We’ll put her in the basement while we eat dinner. Otherwise, she’ll beg for scraps.”

Holly smiled to reassure Christina. Her smile vanished when she noticed Christina’s purse move. She watched it for several moments but it didn’t move again. Maybe Christina bumped it.

Christina stood and walked to the family Christmas tree, lit up and full of ornaments. “You have a beautiful Christmas tree, Mrs. Thoen.”

“Thank you. You can see we have some of Ian’s carvings on the tree. He is very talented and such a nice man. And such a good father to Holly.” Ian’s mother’s sales pitch reminded her how Ian talked to his customers at carving shows when he was trying to convince them to make a purchase.

Jake came into view with a chuckle. “Yes. He’s quite a catch. He knows how to do his own laundry and wash dishes, as well.”

Marley rolled her eyes. “He can tie his shows and write his name, too.”

Ian sighed. “That’s enough of the commercials on my behalf.”

“I can tie my own shoes, too,” Holly said as she stood next to Christina.

Christina put her arm around Holly. “That’s great. You and your dad are both very talented. I’m lucky to know you.”

Holly grinned and gave Christina a hug. She turned in time to catch her grandma and grandpa giving each other a big smile.

Grandma sniffed the air. “The rolls are done. Let’s eat. Come, everyone, gather round the table while I get the food.”

Christina put her hand on the back of her chair, then paused. “May I help you?”

“No, no. You are our guest. Do sit and make yourself comfortable.”

Kelly stood. “We’ll help her.” She grabbed Jake’s arm in one hand, “and you two can help too,” she said to her children.

“But grandmother told us to sit,” Marley said.


Marley stood and frowned at Mark. “You too, squirt.”

“But –.”

Jake stood at the threshold of the kitchen door and gave his kids his “NOW!”

Mark stood and they both followed their mother.

“Grandpa, can I bring my dog in after we eat?” Mark asked as he left the dining room.

“We’ll see. Maybe later.”

“Which means no,” Mark said to himself.

“What did you name your dog?” Holly said.

Mark stood at the door to the kitchen. “We didn’t name him yet. Mom said we have to live with him for a while so we can figure out his personality. I wanted to call the dog Rex, but she said no. She said Rex is not a good name for a girl dog.”

Jakes voice called out. “Now, Mark.”

A short time later the food was brought out. They sat. Grandpa closed his eyes and folded his hands. The rest followed suit. After grace, grandfather said, “Let’s eat. I’m still waiting for the story of how Ian and Christina met.”

They all laughed. Ian and Christina looked at each other as if trying to decide who would speak first.

Jake grabbed a biscuit and passed the basket to Kelly then smiled at Ian and Christina. “Let me tell the story.”

Ian sighed. “I think I can tell the story a little better than you can.”

Everyone laughed. Ian cleared his throat. He told them about how he first laid eyes on her at the Holiday Art and Craft show at the Duluth Auditorium in early October. Marley interrupted to mention how much of a slob her uncle was at the show. They laughed again.

Christina chuckled. “I didn’t notice that, Marley. I’m glad you pointed it out. I only noticed that he had his shoes tied.” Everyone burst out laughing.

Jake was the last to stop laughing. “Christina, I think you’ll fit in quite well.”

Holly felt relief when she heard Uncle Jake’s words. If everyone liked Christina then her dad would have no reason not to marry her. Her train of thoughts derailed since she thought she saw something move in the living room and glanced in that direction. Her sights landed on Christina’s purse. The flap was wide open. She was sure Christina had closed her purse.

“Oh!” Holly said as she felt something move on her leg under the table. She looked down and saw Kel and Uda climbing up her leg like two mountaineers on a mountain. Panic made her drop her fork onto her plate.

“Is something wrong, Holly?” Grandma asked.


“Is something wrong with the food?”

“The food?” Holly looked down at her plate in confusion. Kel and Uda had once again snuck into Christina’s purse and were now climbing up her leg. What should she do? If anyone saw them it would be a major mess. Dad would be mad and Christina would furious at the brats but mostly embarrassed.

She looked at her grandma. “The food is great. I just need to take a moment to rest from eating,” Holly said. “I have to go to the bathroom. May I be excused? We…I mean, I will be right back.”

Before any adult gave her permission to leave, she reached down, grabbed the two woodcarvings, and leapt from her chair. She held Kel and Uda behind her back and maneuvered around the table.  She dashed through the hallway and into the bathroom.

Holly shut the door and placed the twins on top of the toilet tank. “What are you doing here?”

“We wanted to see your grandma and grandpa,” Kel said.

“We wanted to see your Christmas night,” Uda said.

“But you can’t be here. You’re going to ruin everything.”

Kel’s eyes widened. “Are you going to tell Christina?”

Uda mirrored Kel’s face. “She will be mad if she sees us.”

“You should have thought of that before you jumped into Christina’s purse. You know my family doesn’t know about the magic.”

“You do.”

“I do, but they don’t. I told you what happened when my dad found out? He went crazy. When I first saw Astrid move I nearly wet myself. You can’t be here.” Holly put her hands on her hips and stared at them.

“We’ll be good,” Kel said.

“We promise,” Uda said.

“You always promise, but then you never do.”

Kel raised his right hand. “This time we really promise.”

Uda spread her arms out. “We want to see your Christmas. Nicholas gets to go all over the world on Christmas and we’re stuck in the attic.”

“We asked Nicholas to take us along, but he always says no,” Kel said.

“And our parents always say ‘no’ to everything,” Uda said. “We never get to go anywhere.”

“Do your parents know that you’re gone?”

“No,” Kel said. “We told them were going for a long walk around the house.”

Uda chuckled. “It will be hours before they even suspect we’re gone. And we’ll be back in Christina’s purse when she gets home.”

“You are giving me a big headache.”

Kel and Uda wore identical sad faces. “Oh, please, please?”

“All right, but they can’t see you. And I mean it. Christina and dad will be furious if they see you. And they’ll be mad at me because I didn’t tell them right away.”

“We’ll be good,” Uda said.

“We just want to watch your Christmas night,” Kel said.

Holly concentrated. After a moment she smiled. “I got an idea. Stay here and don’t move from this toilet.”

“We’ll stay,” Uda said.

Holly tipped-toe out of the bathroom and into her grandma’s sewing room across the hall. She found a skein of yarn and cut off two long pieces. She tiptoed back to the bathroom. She opened the door in time to see Uda holding Kel’s hand with his foot on the toilet handle. When Uda saw Holly shut the door behind her, she jerked in surprise and let go of Kel’s hand. Both girls watched Kel slip, bounce off the toilet seat and made a splash into the toilet bowl.

Uda laughed as she watched Kel swim around.

Kel looked up “It’s not funny.”  He stopped swimming and bounced up and down in the water like a bobber cork.

Uda laughed. “Hey, remember how Cora always threatened to flush us down the toilet for punishment? She said we would go through the sewer and wait for Nicholas to pick us up in the river? Let’s see if that works.” Uda turned around and reached her foot out to the toilet handle.

“You better not, mother will be so mad at you.”

“No.” Holly grabbed Uda before she could flush the toilet.

“Get me out of here.” Kel said treading water.

Holly reached for Kel, but stopped inches away. “Eww, “I can’t put my hand in there, that’s toilet water.”

“Get me out.”

“Will you promise to behave?”

Uda kept laughing. “I still think we should flush him and wish him a Merry Christmas.”

Holly held her breath, plunged her hand in and plucked Kel out of the water and place him next to Uda.

“Hah hah, you’re all wet Kel,” Uda said.

Holly washed her hands in the sink.

“You can dry me too,” Kel said, as he watched Holly wipe her hand on the towel.

Holly reached for Kel using the tips of her fingers with her pinky extended. She brought Kel over to the towel and wiped him.

“Now you made Holly mad,” Uda said with disgust in her voice. “We won’t get to join them for Christmas.”

“You two have problems with keeping your promises. If you mess this up my dad and Christina will be furious with me. If you do I will never speak to you again. And that’s my promise.”

Kel shook his head to get the water off. “We really, really promise this time.”

Uda smiled at Holly. “We will be good because you’re our best friend.”

Holly sighed and shook her head. “I think this is a terrible idea but you two promised to be good. This is your last chance.” She took a length of yarn and tied each around their midsections with a loop on the other end. She left the bathroom with Kel and Uda behind her back. She snuck over to the Christmas tree in the corner and stood in front of it.

“Holly, are you all right?” Ian asked when he spotted her by the tree.

“I’m fine.”

Jake shook his head. “Oh, come on now, grandmas cooking can’t be that bad.”


When all turned annoyed eyes on Jake, Holly took a step back to the Christmas tree and hung Kel and Uda like Christmas ornaments. As promised, at least at first, both froze like wood ornaments, innocent and motionless. Holly went back to the table.

The dinner continued. Holly glanced at the Christmas tree when nobody watched her. Once or twice Kel and Uda moved. One time Kel tried to kick Uda, another time Holly watched as each made faces to entice the other to make the first move. Each playful incident ended when they saw Holly’s stern expression and both froze. When Holly turned again, Kel and Uda began a “see how high can you swing,” contest. Kel hit a large red glass ornament.

Grandpa tilted his head to one side in time to see the branches move. “Is that cat up here again?”

“You put the cat down the stairs, remember?” Grandma said then turned towards the table “Anybody ready for pumpkin pie?” She stood to clear the table.

Ian patted his belly. “Not for me, at least not for now. I’m stuffed.”

“I’m stuffed too,” Jake said.

Aunt Kelly stood and lifted a plate. “We’ll help you clear the table.” She gave Uncle Jake and Marley a look that caused them to stand and help bring the dishes into the kitchen.

“Can I bring my puppy in now?” Mark said to grandpa.

Before Holly’s grandpa spoke, Marley intercepted from the kitchen door. “No. She’s a pain in the butt so leave him out there.” Marley returned to the table for more dishes. “She is.”

Her mother gave her stern mother’s face.

Christina stood to help.

“You stay there,” her grandmother said to Christina. “You’re a guest. Ian why don’t you show Christina you’re old room? You can show her your trophies from high school.”

Ian groaned. “I’m sure Christina is not interested in seeing old trophies, mom.”

“What were the trophies for?” Christina asked.

“For being a big nerd,” Jake responded as he returned for more dishes.

“Very funny. They were from track and field and they’re very old.”

“I’d love to see them and –.” Christina stopped talking and Holly turned to find her staring at the Christmas tree. Her gaze turned to lock with Holly’s, then swung back to the tree.

Holly sank down into her chair.

“And, what?” When Christina did not reply Ian whispered. “What’s the matter?”

Christina tilted her head toward the tree.

His frown increased. “Did I do something wrong?”

Christina’s eyes widened and nodded toward the Christmas tree.

Ian scanned the tree, stopped then gave a frown at Holly.

Holly sank lower in her chair.

“I think you better go help grandma with the dishes,” Ian said to Holly in a low tone.

“Oh no, I can handle the dishes,” Ian’s mother said as she overheard his comment.

“I want her to help with the dishes – as punishment.”

Holly sat up straight. “Punishment! It’s not my fault. I didn’t bring them. I didn’t tell them to climb into Christina’s purse. They climbed up my leg during dinner. What was I to do?” Holly looked from her dad to Christina. Would they break up because of this newest disaster? It would be all her fault if they didn’t get married and she wouldn’t get a new mom.

Ian cleared his throat.

Grandma’s eyes bounced between Ian and Holly. “What do you mean Christina’s purse and something climbed up her leg?”

Holly sighed. “It means I will help you with the dishes grandma.” Holly got up and collected the last of the silverware and walked into the kitchen dragging her feet.

“Oh my. I hope she hasn’t done anything too serious.”

Ian watched Holly walk to the kitchen door. “Holly has been influenced by some naughty children lately and should have known better.”

Ian’s mother smiled and put her hand on Ian’s shoulder. “Just remember today is Christmas, dear.”

Before her father could respond they were all interrupted by a loud cat screech. Holly stopped at the door way to see the commotion.

“Oh, Clara Bell, how did you get out of the basement?”

Grandpa hissed at the cat. “Stop playing with the tree.”

Holly dashed back into the dining room. “The cat’s upstairs? Here? Now?”

“Stop batting the tree,” grandma said. She lunged toward the tree flapping her apron at the cat.

The commotion added volume when Mark entered into the room with his puppy. “Merry Christmas.” The dog escaped his hold and ran around the room nipping and jumping everywhere.

“No,” Jake shouted, “the cat!”

But it was too late. The puppy rushed the cat and barked in hopes to play and make a new friend. But the cat had no interest in making a new friend. The cat’s fur stood straight up, she hissed and dashed under the tree. The puppy followed. The tree shook and fell over onto Ian, then rolled to the floor.

“What –.” voices rang out as the kitchen crew spilled into the living room. Ian got up and lifted the tree. Everyone was shouting and chasing the animals trying to stop the chaos.

Christina grabbed the tree. “Let me help you with that, Ian.” She collected Kel and Uda with her other hand. As the tree was set right again, Christina dashed into the bathroom.

“Is she all right Ian?” Grandma asked with worry in her voice.

“Yes, she, she needed to go in and, eh, she got some tree sap on herself and wanted to wash it off,” Ian said in a louder voice. “Yes, that’s it, she wanted to wash the sap off her blouse.”

Grandma put her hand on her ears. “You don’t have to shout dear.”

“I do because the dog and the cat are making so much noise – you know.”

Mark returned the puppy to the car. Ian’s father slammed the basement door to lock the cat downstairs.

“Are you all right my dear?” Grandma said to Christina as she walked out of the bathroom with water stains on her blouse. “I apologize for this crazy family.”

“Everything is just fine,” Christina said with a smile and looked at Ian.

Grandma pulled on Christina’s wet sweater. “I hope the sap came out. I can make a solution to get that out.”

“Oh no, I’m fine. You could say I got them out, I mean I got it out just in the – Nick – of time.”

Holly fell onto a chair. “Wheew.”

Ian also fell onto a chair. “Wheew.”

Marley focused on the water marks. “What? It’s just tree sap, easy to remove.”

“You’re right, Marley,” Holly said. She turned to look at the entire family. “I’m just glad Nic — I mean Santa Claus came last night instead of tonight. Otherwise he might have changed his mind about bringing presents to our crazy family.” Holly ended with a guilty laugh.

Christina put an arm around Holly. “Santa will always come to those who believe in magic. I think your family has lots of magic inside them along with lots of love.” She smiled and Holly felt her spirits lift. Christina wasn’t mad after all.

Ian sprang off his chair. “I don’t know about the rest of you but I sure am ready for some pumpkin pie.”

Astrid’s Recipe for Farmer Cookies

Holly Thoen’s short seven-year-old fingers thumbed through Christina’s well-worn family recipe book. “There are so many cookie recipes I don’t know which one to pick.”  She reached for the next page, slipped and the book snapped shut. She groaned and rocked on the kitchen stool. Frustrated, she leaned against the gray marble top counter and thumbed through the recipe book again.

Astrid stepped out of the miniature doorway in the kitchen bookcase next to the counter. “Now what are you up to?”

Holly sighed. “Oh Astrid. I didn’t know you were there. It’s my turn to bring cookies to school tomorrow. I’m trying to find the best recipes for the best cookies to bake. There are so many to choose from I don’t know which one is right. I wish Christina is here to help me.”

“Remember, Christina and your dad are out Christmas shopping. It’s good for Christina to be out this Christmas time, not like last time when she suffered through all that — and we don’t want to interrupt Uncle Justin and Stian’s football game. Ever since Jake’s firm moved to Milwaukee he and Stian had this rivalry every year when the Gophers and Badgers play. And then Justin has Tolof in the mix, it could be a noisy afternoon.”

Holly and Astrid scanned the kitchen door that led out to the living room. A disappointing roar from Jake and Tolof spilled into the kitchen.

Holly shook her head. “Oh, oh, Uncle Justin’s and Tolof’s team must me loosing.”

“Oh, well.” Astrid stepped closer to Holly to look over her shoulder at the book. “Where was I? Oh yes. You can’t bake cookies by yourself.”

“I forgot to tell my dad I needed cookies. I wanted to bring a good batch to school. If I don’t I will be in trouble for not completing the assignment.” Holly gave a heavy sigh as she paged through the cookie section and found where she left off.  She held the book open with one hand and put her elbow on the table, her hand under her chin, with the other. “I’m in trouble.”

“Well, if you are interested I could give you a recipe for cookies I made back in Norway.”

Holly straightened. “You would give me one of your recipes? You think I could bake them myself? Aren’t you afraid I might start a fire?”

“Well, if you’re very careful we can make some cookies. I’ll keep an eye on you and you do what I tell you, we’ll be just fine.”

Holly sprang from the kitchen stool and reached for the cordless phone. “Right here,” she pointed, “is the number for the fire department. We’ll keep the phone ready just in case.” Holly placed the phone on the counter next to the cook book.

Astrid laughed. “The cookies I made were much simpler than cookies today.  My mother’s cookies were favorites for me and my brothers and sisters.”

Holly snapped the book shut. Out of excitement she kicked over her stool and it made a loud bang on the floor. She reached down to pick it up. “Any cookies your mother made I’m sure are a lot better than any of the cookies in this book. Are they hard to make?”

Astrid put her hand to her lips as her eyes looked towards the ceiling as if trying to remember. “How about my mother’s Gården informasjonskapsler?”

“Your mother’s what?”

“I believe it is what Christina’s great-great grandmother called ‘farmer cookies’.”

“Are they hard to make? Will I be able to make them?”

“I did when I was your age. And you are a very smart girl. I’m sure you can handle them easily. Put me over on the table and get a paper and pencil ready for the recipe.”

Holly lifted Astrid from the kitchen bookcase, placed her on the table then ran to the first drawer she could find. She pulled open the silverware drawer so fast she almost pulled the drawer out. “Whoops,” She pushed the drawer back in without mishap. She opened the next drawer to pull out a pencil covered in bite marks then found a scrap of paper on the counter.

Holly stepped back to the stool, climbed up almost toppled it over and said, “Fire away.”

“Let’s hope there’s no fire.” Astrid raised her eyebrows and recited the recipe to Holly. “One cup of shortening, two cups of sugar, three eggs, six teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon vanilla, one teaspoon almond extract or vanilla, one cup of milk, six cups of flour. Oh, go turn the oven on to 350 degrees.”

Holly jumped off her stool. The stool teetered nearly tipping over. She turned the knob as Astrid said, bent down to see the flames ignite, then dashed back to her stool.

“These cookies will cook for about twelve minutes,” Astrid concluded.

Holly nodded. “Did the stoves in your days have temperature knobs and timers like our stoves today?”

Astrid laughed. “Our stoves were the fireplace. My father and brothers chopped wood for fuel. After the fire blazed hot me, my sisters and my mother would cook. We adjusted the heat by how much wood we used and how close we could get to the fire. It took mother many years to figure out how to cook just right. She was a gifted cook.”

“I bet your mother burned her fingers sometimes.”

“Many times.”

“Did Christina’s mother and grandmother burn their hands on their stove? Did they cook the same way?”

“I have observed many Santa Keepers cooking through the years. It was interesting to see how kitchen appliances and gadgets changed through the years. So let’s mix these ingredients while the men-folk bring in the wood and light the fire.” Astrid chuckled.

Holly chuckled with her. “I know Christina has sugar in that can.” She pointed to a set of canisters on the counter. “But what is shortening?”

“Shortening is fat like lard, or butter, or bacon grease or reindeer fat.”

Holly wrinkled her nose. “Bacon grease? Reindeer fat? Ewww.”

Astrid shrugged. “We used whatever we had.”

“I don’t think we have any bacon grease or lard.” Holly walked to the refrigerator. “Christina has butter. She held up a stick of butter. “Is one stick of butter the same as one cup?”

“I don’t know. What does it say on the butter wrapper?”

Holly groaned. “Fractions. I’m not very good with fractions yet.”

“Oh dear. Well, let’s try one stick.”

Holly reached up to a cupboard and found a metal bowl. She unwrapped the butter and dropped it into the bowl with a plop. “It’s very hard.”  She poked at the butter with her finger and then stuck her finger in her mouth. “I don’t think this will mix up very well.”

“Oh dear, that will never work.”

“I can put hot water on the butter to melt it.”

Astrid pointed to one end of kitchen “No, that won’t work. Try setting the bowl on the radiator by the window. Maybe that will melt it.”

“Okay.” Holly carefully picked up the bowl and carried it to the radiator. She touched the radiator and pulled her hand back quickly. “It’s very hot. How long before it melts?”

“I don’t know. Just put the bowl on the radiator while we get the rest of the ingredients ready.”

“Okay.” She placed the mettle bowl on the radiator with a clank and dashed back to the table. Holly checked her list. “We need two cups of sugar.” At the cupboard, she stepped up on a stool and took out a large coffee cup. She stood on tiptoes to grasp the sugar canister with her fingertips. As he pulled it closer it tipped over and sugar spilled on the cupboard. “Oops,” she gasped and quickly set the canister upright.

Astrid put her finger to her lips. “Oh dear. I may have to call upstairs for Gunda and Berthina to come down and help us clean up when we finish here.”

“But won’t Nils be mad if we take them away from toy making?” Holly asked as she brushed at the spilled sugar spreading the mess further.

“Yes, but what is worse – Nils’ anger, or Christina’s anger at the mess?”

“I don’t want Christina to be mad so she won’t marry us. Do you think she will be mad at me?”

Astrid laughed. “No, of course not, Christina is completely in love with you and your father. I don’t think anything will stop her from marrying you two.”

Holly smiled. “I can’t wait for her to be my new mom. I loved my real mom but I love Christina too.” She grew serious. “Is it okay to love a new mom since the old one died?”

Astrid smiled. “Of course. You have a big heart Holly with lots of love in it. Don’t you worry about that.”

Holly smiled. “I do love Christina. Okay, back to the cookie making.” She stood on the stool to reach into the sugar canister to fill the coffee cup with sugar. “Oh, I need two of these.” She walked back to the dish cupboard and pulled out a second coffee cup and filled it. “Only a little sugar got spilled.” She brushed off the cupboard and onto the floor. “We need six cups of flour. I’ll get more cups.” She dashed to the dish cupboard and found six different coffee mugs and carried them to the table as each porcelain mug clanked with each other.

“Careful not to drop them, dear.”

“I’m being very careful,” Holly ran back to the counter, stepped up on the stool and reach out to pull the canister marked flour over to the edge. She stepped off the stool and pulled the canister with her. It wobbled as she took a step toward the table. “It’s only a little heavy,” she panted but got it to a chair next to the table. Holly opened the lid and reached in six times to fill each of the coffee mugs. She wiped the spilled flour on her pants.

Astrid tsked, shook her head and smiled.

“Whew, this cooking is a lot of work, isn’t it?” Holly wiped hair away from her brow and got some of the flour smudged on her face and shirt.

Astrid nodded. “Oh yes. As I recall, cooking was always a lot of work. In my day we had to milk the goat, make our own butter, gather grain and grind our own flour. It was very hard.”

Holly rested for a minute. “Does Nicholas stop to eat cookies put out by children when he visits their homes on Christmas Eve?”

“Heavens no. We don’t want Nicholas to get any fatter than he already is.”

Holly giggled. “Why do children put cookies and milk out for Nicholas? How many years have they been doing that?”

“The tradition of leaving a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa started with the parents.  It was a final gesture for the children to get ready for bed. Children wake up and see the cookies gone with only crumbs left and assume Santa was there. But, parents ate the cookies and drank the milk to make their children believe Santa stopped by and graciously took the offerings. Often when Nicholas arrives the cookies are already eaten and the milk drank. He finds that amusing, but he has told me several times that the sight of those crumbs makes him long for my farmer cookies.

“Well, we can give him some of these when they’re baked.” Holly closed the lid on the flour and made her way to the refrigerator to pull out a carton of eggs. “We need three eggs.” She set the eggs on another chair, so she could reach them without difficulties and opened the carton. “I’ve never cracked an egg before. Dad always did it for me.”

“It’s not too difficult. You hold it in one hand and rap it once or twice on the edge of the counter until the egg cracks. Then you pull the two halves apart and let the egg out.”

“Like this?” Holly reached for an egg and wrapped it hard against the edge of the counter. The shell smashed to bits and egg yolk and white ran down the side of the cupboard.

“Oh my. That smash was a little too hard. You better get a towel dear to wipe up some of this mess before it runs all over the floor.”

Holly ran to the paper towel dispenser and pulled out a long strip of towels. She ran back to the spilled egg and tried to wipe it up. “It’s very slimy and slippery, isn’t it?” she said as she smeared egg down the cupboard and across the floor.

“Yes, it’s rather slippery.”

Holly picked up the egg-filled towels and carried them to the garbage can spilling more of the eggy mess across the floor.  “I hope Christina won’t be too mad.”

Astrid gasped but did not reply.

“I better check to see if the butter got melted,” Holly ran to the metal bowl sitting on the radiator and grabbed it. “Ouch, that’s hot,” she dropped the bowl and stuck her fingers in front of her face to blow on them. The bowl tipped over sideways and melted butter ran down the radiator and across the floor.  “Oh, oh.” Holly took a step closer to right the bowl. She stepped in some of the melted butter and slid across the floor to land in a heap next to the wall.

“Oh Holly. Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”

Holly stood up slowly and rubbed her butt. “No. It didn’t hurt too much. The bowl was only a little hot.” She blew on her fingers.

“Holly, I’m having second thoughts about baking cookies tonight.” Astrid scanned the kitchen at the spilled sugar, flour, butter and egg.

Holly voice began to quiver. “But I have to bring cookies to school. My teacher told me it was my turn.”

“But Holly, this may be a bigger project than you and I can handle on our own.” Again, Astrid looked around the room at the mess Holly had created. “I am worried that you might get hurt. You could get burned by the oven. What would we do then?”

She paused. “Maybe we can ask Justin, Tolof and Stian to help us clean up.”

Astrid opened her mouth, but before she could speak another disappointing roar came from Justin. “I guess those two won’t want to help. And we know we can’t pry Stian away from the television when any of his games are on.”

Holly sighed and struggled to hold back tears as she looked around the room at the mess. Christina would be mad about the mess in the kitchen. If they asked the other villagers to help clean Nils would be mad because they weren’t making gifts.

She hiccupped as she tried to keep from crying. Holly didn’t want Astrid to think she was a baby. She heard a strangled gasp from her right shoulder. Justin, Christina’s brother, stood in the kitchen doorway. His expression told Holly she was in trouble.

Justin focused on Holly. “Ahh, what happened in here?”

“I’m sorry, Justin. I forgot to tell daddy I have to bring cookies to school tomorrow. I was trying to make some cookies from Astrid’s old recipe. But the butter was hard, so I was melting it on the radiator, but the bowl was hot, and I burned my fingers and some sugar and flour got spilled and I smashed the egg too hard and it was slimy and then I slipped on the butter and I landed on my bottom,” Holly said all in one long string of words as she waited for him to explode.

Justin made a strangled sound in his throat and coughed a few times before he burst out laughing.  “Oh Holly, did you hurt yourself?” Justin got his laughter under control. He put his arm around her shoulders. “You look like a little snow angel with all that flour and sugar on your face.”

Tolof strolled in to the kitchen floor. “What happened here? How did Kel and Uda make such a mess?”

Holly peered down to Tolof. “No, it’s just me and Astrid.”

Tolof laughed. “Holy smokes, I think this is a record mess in this house. Kel and Uda would be proud.”

“Tolof, that’s not funny,” Justin said to his teenage villager companion.

“But it is,” Tolof said with a laugh. His expression changed immediately when he was Holly’s tearful face. “But then there was that Kel and Uda fiasco in 1862 when –.”

Justin interrupted Tolof and spoke to Holly. “Are you okay?”

“It only hurts a little.” She rubbed her backside. “What am I going to do? Christina is going to be mad from the mess. Daddy is going to be mad because Christina is mad. Nils is going to be mad if I ask the villagers to help us clean up. My teacher is going to be mad because I have no cookies.” She looked at him and took a deep breath as she tried not to cry.

Justin took her arm and led her over to the only chair that wasn’t covered with flour or sugar and sat her down.

Tolof approached Holly while he tracked the flour-covered floor. “Oh no, you’re right. The fiasco of 1937 was worse.”

Justin knelt down. “Here is what we will do.”  His knee close to a broken egg and looked straight into Holly’s eyes. “First, we’ll clean up this mess before Christina and your dad get home. We won’t ask the villagers to help so Nils won’t be mad. Second, you and I will get into my car and drive over to the grocery store and buy some store-bought cookies for you to take to school. Third, I’ll sit back in the living room and lose my bet with Stian. How does that sound?”

Holly looked at him for several minutes and considered his words.  “I think it sounds like I’ll like having an Uncle Justin,” she said with a big smile. “But I’ll be careful not to make any bets with Stian about football.”

He smiled back. “And I will like have a niece named Holly. And Stian and Nils and Tolof and all the villagers will be glad to have you around, too.”

Holly gave Justin a floury hug.

“Absolutely,” Tolof said.

“You’re one of the family,” Astrid said.

Stian shouted into the kitchen. “Justin. Get in here, the Badgers just fumbled.”

Justin gowned. “Let’s get those cookies.”

Gunda’s Favorite Thanksgiving

Berthina led Gunda and Astrid underneath the living room bookcase and climbed the miniature staircase to top. Holly and Christina’s plan to bring Astrid home and prevent Ian from noticing the wood spirits succeeded. Half way up Astrid stopped. She stared into the dark, lifeless living room and dining room then sighed.

Berthina put her hand on Astrid’s shoulder. “What’s the matter?”

“Do you realize this is the first Thanksgiving in this house without the smell of turkey, without people?”

Gunda chuckled. “First Thanksgiving without the loud racket, you mean?”

Berthina bumped Gunda.

“I was kidding, just to lighten the mood.”

They continued their trek up the small stair case, each not saying a word.

Astrid broke the silence. “I remember the last time we had a big Thanksgiving, the year before the accident years ago. The house was lit up with the first signs of Christmas decorations throughout all the rooms. Everyone laughed and had a great time. And I remember the holidays after the accident. Nothing was the same. Sometimes they sat in silence. Sometimes they were in hot turmoil because of the loss.”

Berthina sighed. “I remember the last few years. Seeing Christina alone sitting at that big table. It took the entire village to bring her spirits up. She kept saying ‘it’s all right,’ and then went to her room to work.”

The other two groaned.

Gunda tsked. “You two are such sourpusses. Instead, think about what’s happening now.”

Astrid stopped at the top of the spiral staircase and gazed at Gunda.

Berthina ran into Astrid.

Gunda answered Astrid’s silent question. “Christina is dating Ian. She’s going to a Thanksgiving celebration with his family. We should be happy for her. And let’s not forget about Ian’s daughter Holly.”

Berthina’s eyebrows raised in fear. “But what if Christina doesn’t get along with his family?”

Gunda grunted. “She will. I have faith. Next year she will invite his family and we will celebrate together. That reminds me of one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories – remember the Thanksgiving of 1912?”

Astrid smiled.

Berthina groaned.

Gunda continued. “Henrik Gudmundson married Anna Knutson and his brother Erik married her sister Sarah the year before.”

Berthina lowered her eyebrows. “Why would you remember that Thanksgiving as one of the best?”

“Because Knude and Marit invited the Knutson family over for Thanksgiving.”

“But it was so big and so loud.”

Gunda interrupted Berthina. “Of course. As families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. But what a contrast those Thanksgiving days were to those of the past few years here.”

Berthina couldn’t respond.

As they reached to top of the book case, Gunda scanned the silent dining room and thought back to that wonderful Thanksgiving. The sounds of the family filled the house.  Laughter and greetings filled Gunda’s mind.


 “Gunda!” Nils said.

Gunda snapped out of her trance as she listened to ten-year-old Cora greet the in-laws, the Knutson’s to their festive home.

“We need these train cars painted. We need them done before the end of the night.”

The sounds of laughter and greetings seem to amplify through the villager’s walk-way to the attic. “I was just getting into the Thanksgiving spirit.”

“You know that we always save these quieter tasks for when the in-laws visit so they won’t hear the tapping and pounding noises. So, let’s get going.”

“Oh Nils. You always have to sink the spirit – just like the Titanic.”

Nicholas and Astrid spun around to glower at Gunda after the unfeeling remark about the recent disaster.

Gunda slapped her hands to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way, those poor dears.” She turned back to Nils and put her hands on her hips “But you do, Nils. You seem to kill every joyous holiday like this.”

“Look, we are wasting time.”

Nicholas tapped his hand on Nils’ shoulders. “Sometimes we could stop to enjoy moments like these. Remember, this is the reason why we do what we do, to make people happy, to enjoy these happy moments.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But we need these train cars painted to keep on schedule.”

Gunda shook her head in exasperation. “Oh, you and your schedule. You’re so -, oh, I’m going for a walk.”

“But these -.”

“When I get back.”

“Need company?” Astrid asked.

“No,” Gunda said with a sharp voice and left the attic.

Gunda soon found her way to the top of a tall bookcase in Cora’s room and leaned over the edge to get a better glimpse of the crowd around the house. One of the Knutson boy’s ran into the room. She leapt back when she heard a girl’s voice call.

“Where are you?” Cora’s said with a snap. When she got no answer, she ran away from the room and throughout the hall.

A boy, below the book case giggled.

Gunda slipped to hide behind some books, but one of them fell over with a loud snap.

“What was that?” The boy said. “It’s a mouse that came out of that hole up there.”

Gunda felt the book shelf shake while the boy grunted. When the boy climbed up on the shelves, Gunda looked at the hole for her escape. She planned to make her dash to safety. When his hand grasped the top and his brown hair rose up, she froze. Before his eyes reached the top of the bookcase, a stern voice came from the doorway.

“You’re not supposed to be in here. This is the girl’s room. This is my room. And what are you doing on top of my bookshelf? You’re knocking over my National Geographic’s collection.”

“Oh ‘Cranky Cora’, you’re such a busybody.” The boy climbed down as the bookcase shook.


“What if I don’t want to?”

“I’ll tell your mother.”

When Gunda heard the boy leave she gave a loud sigh of relief. To her shock a hand rose over the bookshelf and grabbed her.

Cora eyes widened at the villager in her hand. “Gunda, what are you doing out here?” Cora looked around to make sure no one saw her.

“Oh my, Cora. You’ve given me such a fright.” She placed her hand on her heart. “I needed to take a walk from – well, I -.”


Gunda changed the subject. “I never came close and watched your Thanksgiving celebration before.”

“You want to join us for supper?”

“I would love to, but -.”

“You can be in my dress pocket here.” Cora put Gunda in her left side pocket.

Gunda stood up to peek out of Cora’s pocket. “This will do nicely and – oh my, this is a lovely pink and white dress. And your curls, you look like quite lovely today.”

“Thank you. Mother said the same thing. But an explorer like me would never dress like this, I mean, not every day.”

“I hope your mother doesn’t mind me to be here with you.”

“She may or may not mind. But then, what’s life without a little adventure.”

“We must keep -.” Gunda stopped herself when she heard Cora’s mother, Marit with her son Erik, walk into the hallway next to the door. Cora backed into the room. Both listened in on their conversation.

“Erik, is there anything we could do for her to cheer her up?”

“I’m not sure. I thought Sarah would be happy now that the baby will arrive soon. She was so happy when we learned we were expecting, she literally glowed. She was so excited while preparing for the nursery, the arrival. But now I don’t know why she is so sad.”

Gunda smiled. She understood why his wife became gloomy. To say that Sarah was “great with child” would be a gross understatement. And as Erik had pointed that fact out to everyone, ‘Sarah is so big it’s a surprise she can walk without falling forward.’  And he had said that in front of Sarah.

“You need to remind her that, despite her, shall we say temporary large frame, that she is a beautiful woman.”

“Well, she knows that. I’ve told her that since I first met her.”

“Have you told her recently?”

“I didn’t think I needed to.”

The long pause gave Gunda the image of one of Erik’s mother’s stern looks at her inept son.

Erik cleared his throat. “Well, I guess I better.”

The hallway conversation cut off with the sound a firm jolly voice spoke. “Oh, there you are my boy.”

“Oh, Mr. Knutson,” Erik’s voice rose.

“When are you going to drop this Mr. Knutson business and call me dad?”

“Oh sorry, I’m –.”

“So tell me about this automobile I heard you have recently acquired.”

“Well, I’m not too sure I’m interested in keeping it.”

Erik, mother and Mr. Knutson’s conversation drifted into the living room. Gunda peeked over the edge of the pocket. The adults drifted over to Henrik and Anna, the newlyweds. Anna’s face beamed from the attention.  Sarah sat alone, slumped back as her belly stuck up larger than her humongous father’s large frame. Sarah’s face showed no delight towards the surrounding festivities.

Gunda peeked over the dress pocket. “Cora, look over there. Let’s try to cheer Sarah up, shall we?”

“She looks like she doesn’t want to be cheered up.”

“You know you always have the gift to cheer anyone up. Let’s go.”

Cora nodded and made her way towards Sarah. Gunda slipped down and enjoyed the ride and sniffed the Thanksgiving turkey. The living room Victrola played a scratchy version of “We Gather Together.” The Victrola horn could not keep up with the sounds of spirited conversations and younger children having trouble keeping themselves from shouting and being disciplined by older members of their families.

Cora approached her sister-in-law with a bright smile. “Hello Sarah, I’m glad you are with us on this Thanksgiving Day.”

“Oh, hello, thank you.” Sarah gave a sigh.

“You have much to be thankful for today.”

“Oh, like what?”

“Well, you’re very beautiful.”

Sarah gave a sarcastic chuckle and readjusted herself while giving a few grunts and groans.

“I know you worry that people think you’re fat, but you’re not. It’s good that you will have a baby soon. That’s something to be thankful for.”

Sarah sighed. “Thanks kid, I know you’re trying to be helpful but -.”

“You are always beautiful. You looked extra beautiful in your wedding dress last year, but the beauty you have will never go away, even if you’re – well – large right now. I know I’m not supposed to talk about women who are,” she lowered her voice, ‘expecting.’ But Sarah, you are beautiful, you really are.”

“Thank you.” Sarah’s voice reflected no sincerity. “So, how’s your National Geographic collection coming long?” She was obviously trying to change the subject.

“Oh, this month’s issue is about a very interesting place in the -.”

Gunda interrupted Cora with a tug on her dress. “I mean, I have an issue about the wonders of Paris. One day I’m going there and you can come too. Paris is full of beautiful women and you would fit right in.”

“Oh, Cora, thank you. You’re very kind.” Sarah again readjusted herself with more grunts.

Cora moved closer to reach up and put her hands on Sarah’s face. “You really are very beautiful. You are as beautiful as my Grandmother, whose name was also Sarah. I guess all Sarah’s are beautiful.” When Cora lowered her hands, Sarah reached and pulled Cora into a firm hug so that Gunda was pressed hard against the baby bump.

“Oh, Cora, you are so sweet. You are something. And I’m very thankful for you and –, oh.”

The baby kicked back at Gunda. “Whoops.”

Sarah pushed Cora away and rubbed the huge belly. “Something in your pocket is –, oh.”

Gunda stood up and her eyes met Sarah’s.

“Oh, hello – I’m not sure which one you are,” Sarah said with a confused expression.

“This is Gunda,” Cora said with a broad smile.

“Oh – hello Gunda.”

“You remember, Nil’s wife.”

“You mean crabby Nils who –.” Sarah trailed off as she saw the expression on Gunda’s face glaring at Cora, “which I am sure is greatly exaggerated.”

“Well, not today!” Gunda peeked over Cora’s pocket to make sure no one heard her exclaim.  

Sarah looked around to see that no one from her family observed their conversation.

Cora gave Sarah a bright smile. “Gunda will join us for Thanksgiving.”

“How? If my family finds out, they’ll –.”

Cora chuckled. “Oh, I remember what happened to you when you first saw Nicholas and you –.”

Gunda interrupted Cora with a sharp poke.

Sarah laughed. “It was unfortunate that no one had one of those new-fangled Kodak cameras ready. I would have liked to have seen the spectacle from another angle and –.”

“Cora,” Erik said as he approached, “you’re not getting Sarah overly exhausted, are you?”

“If you are here to say how beautiful Sarah is, it’s too late. We have already discussed the matter, a matter you should have discussed earlier – and several times.”

“Now see here. I’ve always thought Sarah is beautiful. And what’s this?” Erik’s eyes met Gunda’s. “Does mother know you have her out here?”

“Oh Erik,” Sarah said and softly touched the back of his hand. Her voice changed to command the situation. “Gunda will join us for Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you’ll not make a spectacle of yourself, and certainly not at Cora’s expense.”

“I, well, keep her hidden so mother doesn’t find out. By the way, does Nils know that she’s here?”

His little sister lowered her eyebrows. “Please, save your breath Erik, I’m not that stupid.”

“Cora,” her mother called from the kitchen door.

Cora jumped. “What?”

“Help me bring some of these dishes out to the table.”

“Yes mother.” Cora rose from her chair.

“Maybe you could let Gunda help you with the dishes,” Erik said in a sarcastic tone.

“Maybe she’ll do a better job of that then you can, dear brother.” Cora walked away. Gunda heard Sarah say. “She has become quite a young lady.”

“Yeah,” Erik said, “she seems to be getting a bit too big for her britches.”

Before Gunda moved out of earshot, she heard a smacking sound and Erik said, “Ouch.”

With the table set, the family and guests did not wait for a second invitation as they all gathered around the table and sat down. Cora found herself at a smaller table filled with younger Knutson children.

Knude stood at the end of the table, “Before I say a prayer, I would like to share my thoughts about family as we gather on this joyous Thanksgiving Day. As children we all remember that special feeling of togetherness around the table and share with each other what we have to be thankful for.  I’m so glad that the Knutson family accepted our invitation and join us here today.” The Gudmundson family applauded. “And as our names show we have the same forefathers who no doubt believed in the love and togetherness that binds our families together.

“I firmly believe, as my dear friend Charles here,” Knude said and gestured towards Sarah’s father, “that family is important. Families bind us together and keep us happy and healthy. And even though last year we welcomed new people into our family, and gave many thanks for this, I also want to give thanks for new members who will join us next year,” Knude gestured towards Sarah. Everyone turned to look at Sarah and she smiled back as Erik reached to put his arm around her shoulder.

“So, as we all gather here, I hope we can enjoy this day in hopes it will bring out the best in us, despite the intense hunger we are now facing. Let us pray.”

Gunda looked over Cora’s pocket to see the large gathering in the dining room. They all closed their eyes and lowered their heads when Knude gave the Thanksgiving Day prayer. Gunda knew she had plenty to be thankful for – to be a part of the family Thanksgiving Day gathering. Though Nils, as well as the others in the attic would not appreciate the scene Gunda gazed upon. She smiled, knowing there would be many more Thanksgiving gatherings in this house.

The prayer ended, the guests talked, and passed the many dishes to each other. Gunda scooted down to make sure no one saw her, the sounds of family, was enough for her.


Berthina brought Gunda out of her reminiscence. “But having so many people, it was big and loud,”

“Yes, families unite and they get bigger and – yes – louder. And what a contrast that was to the Thanksgivings of the past few years here with Christina alone – her mother and father gone, her only brother far way. Which Thanksgiving Day would you prefer?”

Berthina said nothing.

Astrid snapped her fingers. “We will invite the Thoen family next year. Good idea, Gunda.” 

They entered the rectangular passageway to that village in the attic. The passage was so small that only one villager could pass at a time. Berthina followed Astrid and Gunda brought up the rear. Gunda no longer felt depressed from the quiet, darkened dining room. If the Thoen family was like Holly and Jake, Christina would have a happy Thanksgiving Day. And as Astrid said that would have to do for now.

“Astrid!” The villagers called as she came into view from the passageway.

Astrid embraced Gunda. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too Astrid, and to you Berthina.”

Gunda smiled as Astrid walked into the attic, surrounded by her family and friends. It truly was a happy Thanksgiving Day after all. 

Alice’s First Day on the Job – November 27th 1942

Alice Ringstad sat in the wooden chair next to the table filled with baking ingredients, mixing bowls, silverware and pie pans. With nervous twitches she played with her flowery skirt, smoothing out the fabric. It had been her idea to share her wartime cooking skills with the Duluth radio audience. The idea came to her as her way to do her part for the war effort. But now, wringing her handkerchief with nervous, sweaty hands, this no longer seemed such a great idea.  

Her assistant, Mary Lewis sat next to her. At Alice’s age, Mary also auditioned for the position as radio announcer, but came in second to Alice. Mary’s mouth purse in a tight line as her nose turned up. Since Mary was unhappy with the turn of advents, Alice’s discomfort rose.

The front bleachers audience waited for Alice to speak. They occupied themselves while they watched stagehands place more ingredients on the table. The restless audience frequent glances in her direction made her pulse rate rise. The dread of potential failure filled her brain. 

Speakers boomed with the voice of a news correspondent from Washington. The news of the latest push against the Nazis in Africa and the results of the past battles in the Pacific filled the studio. Alice sighed in relief knowing her wounded husband, Henry rested in a California hospital. Injured – but alive. He had been a gunner’s mate on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid that now sits at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. 

Henry had lost his right leg below the knee in August when the Japanese navy destroyed the USS Intrepid. As a gunner’s mate, Henry was a tempting target. Now that winter was on its way she became eager for this return to Duluth.  Home would be a better place for him to heal instead of a military hospital. She sighed and checked the studio clock one more time.

The news man from Washington concluded his broadcast. The Duluth radio station announcer approached the microphone. He adjusted his glasses, rubbed his small bushy mustache and smoothed back his greased back hair. As he tightened his thin knot tie, he spoke. “This is WDSM your Duluth good neighbor and hello to all our friends throughout the entire Iron Range. We now invite you to join us for ‘Cooking for Victory’. As you know Miss Julie Ann Baxter has left the show and we all wish her well. Today I will introduce you to young Alice Ringstad who will replace Miss Julie.”

Alice stood up. The audience gave a courteous applause. Alice remembered when she listened in the ‘Cooking for Victory show with Miss Julie and the loud and warm applause she received. The last announcer to the show was a tough act to follower, Alice gulped.

The announcer spoke how important his audience needed to conserve and ration food. “As you know, our ‘Cooking for Victory’ program is for our patriotic housewives who want to learn how to ration foodstuff and yet still put a hearty meal on the table for her family.”

The audience applauded.

As Alice walked to the microphone two stage hands brought the table filled with ingredients in front of her. Mary followed. 

Alice stepped up close to the square-shaped microphone and pulled on the thin metal stand close. She cleared her throat. “Thank you everyone. This is my first appearance with ‘Cooking for Victory’ program. My name is Alice Ringstad and this is my assistant, Mary Lewis. I know how difficult it is to put a good meal on the table during these times of uncertainty. But as Bob mentioned, with a little help and a bit of creativity, you can prepare great meals with simple substitutions from the grocer or from your very own victory garden. Today, I’m will make a recipe called ‘Tomato Soup Cake’. This recipe is brought to you by ‘Good Taste Flour’, from the Duluth Milling Company.” 

Alice paused. She found the ingredients not placed in the same arrangement during practice. Her hands shook as she rearranged things quickly. The distraction calmed her nerves. The audience fidgeted and the producer director waved his hand toward her to move on. “Ah, yes.” she stared at the table. 

Mary tsked. “Shouldn’t we get going? Here, step aside. I’ll take over.” 

Alice stood her ground, finished rearranging and spoke into the microphone. “I do apologize for my delay. To tell you the truth things here are not arranged as I expected. But, as I said about uncertainty, we mothers and wives deal with all kinds of uncertainty since we have sent our men-folk out to defend our great country.” 

Alice finished rearranging the small bowls of ingredients. Mary brought herself close to the microphone, but Alice beat her to it. “Now, I hope you have your pencil and paper ready to write down the recipe and ingredients you will need for our Tomato Soup Cake.” 

Alice brought the recipe to her eyes and read:

“Three tablespoons of shortening or lard – don’t forget to use your drippings; One cup of sugar or less if you wish to conserve; one teaspoon of baking soda; one can of tomato soup; two cups of flour; one teaspoon of cinnamon; one teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.” 

“After you mix these ingredients you will add one and a half cups of raisins or nuts or a combination of the two to your liking. Again, to conserve your sugar, use more raisins.” Alice glimpsed at the audience. She gave a sigh of relief as the audience scribbled down the ingredients. The director stopped fidgeting but gave her a stern gaze.

Alice opened her mouth. A shock wave moved down her spine when her eyes moved to Bob’s left, in the back and out of sight of everyone – two six-inch villagers from her mother’s attic stood – Nicholas and Astrid. Alice peeked sideways at Mary to make sure she did not notice her two little supporters in the back. Astrid motioned a silent applause and Nicholas nodded his head. 

Alice took a deep breath, cleared her throat and moved on. As she mixed the ingredients she spoke her instructions. Again, she observed the audience as they jot them down. Their attention inspired her to continue with confidence. “First you cream the shortening while you add the sugar and blend thoroughly like this. Now you do not need to add as much sugar for taste. We do need to stretch out your sugar rations. Let’s put this down and pick up another bowl with the tomato soup and add the baking soda and stir well like I’m doing here. Now we add the first bowl of sugar and shortening to the second bowl like this.” 

Mary hissed through the side of her mouth. “You don’t need to lift the bowls. This is radio.” 

Alice ignored Mary then smiled at the audience. “Now with the third bowl we sift the flour and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Then take this bowl over to the first mix and stir together thoroughly. Your mix should have a texture like thick pudding. Now we add the raisins and/or nuts and stir all together with a wooden spoon.” 

Alice peeked at Nicholas and Astrid from time to time for moral support. She gave the bowl to Mary to keep stirring. Alice walked to the fake oven on the set. “Now we need to have our oven preheated to 325°.” Alice turned the knob. “When the mixture is all stirred up pour it into a greased cake pan or loaf pan as Mary is doing right now.” 

After Mary poured the ingredients, Alice reached for the cake filled pan. Mary made a “humph” sound in her throat.

“Place the pan in the oven, and let it bake for 50 minutes.” Alice placed the uncooked mixture next to another pan of cooked cake. “And here’s how your ‘Tomato Soup Cake’ looks after 50 minutes in the oven, done to perfection. I wish all of you listening to the radio could see the lovely results that our studio audience is witnessing. Audience, doesn’t that look delicious?” 

Alice turned Nicholas and Astrid for approval. Both applauded with the audience. The director lowered his eyebrows and turned to his left as if he heard a strange noise. He turned back and raised his shoulders and shook his head. Alice glanced at the clock. She had two minutes left.

“Now, I also neglected to mention you can add a bit more cinnamon or other festive ingredients readily available to make this a sweet addition to your Thanksgiving Day or Christmas dinner table.” She paused and glanced at Nicholas and became inspired. 

“Now, I know we all are all disheartened by the war that has plagued us for almost a whole year since the tragedy at Pearl Harbor. But we do need to remember our holidays. They bring family and friends together and help us to remain strong and forget our woes, only if temporarily.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas are moments for reflection. We reflect on the good memories of this year and the blessings of the year. And with the decorations of evergreen garlands with red and gold ribbons throughout the studio here bring festive thoughts to my mind. The Christmas tree, holly branches and…” 

Alice stopped when she heard Mary clear her throat. At a glance, she saw the director move his arm around clockwise that told Alice to wrap it up. Actors for the next show had their scripts handy and ready to perform. 

“That’s all for now — well not all. A treat like this can help you forget your woes and –.” Alice admired her cake then looked up at Nicholas and Astrid. “This is the time to forget your woes and think of the good times. Always keep those good thoughts in your heart.” 

The announcer stepped in haste and pushed her aside. “Well, let’s give Alice Ringstad a warm applause for her marvelous recipe.”

The audience applauded. As Alice stepped away from the microphone, the two men returned and removed the table. Some of the audience came up to chat with Alice about her recipe. The director walked up to those audience members, put his fingers to his round lips and frowned. The inquisitive audience members sat back down while the show continued despite the interruptions. 

Alice and Mary walked off the stage. The director followed. 

The announcer spoke into the microphone.

“I suppose I did a horrible job.”

Mary’s face screwed into a grimace. “That much is certain.”

“Oh no, the audience loved it. Just make sure you have your ingredients in order. We don’t want any interruptions.”

“So, you want me, I mean us back next week?” 

Bob watched the actors start then he snapped his head back. “Of course, your show was splendid. I don’t remember the last time audience members came up like that afterward.” 

Mary shook her head in disgust and walked off. 

Bob watched the actors bring the first round of laughs from the audience. He spoke over his shoulder. “See you next week.”

“Yes, thank you. I will. And I’m sure I won’t need moral support from Nicholas – I mean, I’ll be much better then.” 

He took a step towards the show then turned back to Alice. “What you said at the end –‘this is the time to forget your woes and think of the good times. Always keep them in your heart.’ I think you should use that line at the end of all your shows.” He winked and pointed his finger at her. 

“Of course.” 

The director walked away before she could thank him. She took one last glance at Nicholas and Astrid. Nicholas gave her a thumbs-up, took Astrid’s wrist, and then they vanished. 

Alice sighed put her hand towards her heart in relief. “I suppose these are the good times.”

The Villagers Visited the Minnesota State Fair

The villagers became part of the wood carving competition at the Minnesota State Fair. They were so anxious to go, but I was a bit worried to what kind of trouble Kel and Uda would get into. They have nothing to fear as the fair employees set them up. During the fair, I and others had the opportunity to demonstrate wood carving at the presentation booth. I was afraid I would come in to prepare and hear people complain that their stuff had been moved or hidden.

Along with that, I’m sure Arve and Ola were thrilled to see the sights of the fair. As memory has it, I believe Cora took them to the state fair before, but that was back in the 1920’s. Arve and Ola would have lots to say about the changes through the years.

I entered the villagers under “carving, group of humans”. However, they only received 2nd place. They got beaten out by one of my carving friends, so I guess that’s OK (somewhat). His carve happened to be spectacular. If the villagers find out, well, I’ll just not tell them. I wonder what Agar would have said to their visit. But it was fun to see them sitting there enjoying the passersby. The villagers were OK with that too if Kel and Uda stayed still.

How the Villagers Came to Be

The Beginning – Agar and Nicholas

In early 1349, Agar, the shaman of Nordland in northern section of Norway, foresaw the coming of the Black Death (plague) that would kill a majority of the town’s population.  Though filled with passion for the villagers along with his deep connection to the natural and spiritual worlds, he could not stop the coming disease.  With this devastating news, Agar became gaunt and sad.  He decided to not confide with the villagers this information at first so as not to cause panic while he devised a plan to save the people of the village.

Agar spent the next few days fasting, chanting and drumming. Nicholas, Agar’s best friend and the village leader, grew worried and pressed for Agar to explain his changed behavior.  Agar realized he could not keep the devastating future from his friends and told Nicholas what he had foreseen.

Upon receiving the news of the upcoming disaster, Nicholas, though shocked, believed in Agar’s prediction. Being a practical man, he told Agar they needed to find a solution and stop wasting time with worry.  Nicholas suggested to Agar to place a magical spell around the people of the village, to protect them like a shield.  But Agar explained he did not have enough power to save them all.  He didn’t want to decide which ones to leave behind.

Nicholas next suggested that Agar could put the villagers into a deep sleep until the danger passed.  Agar explained that since the plague came by fleas from person to person a deep sleep would not protect them and the villagers will become infected.  In his vision, the Black Death would sweep across the land causing death to all in its path and only the trees and plants would survive.

Agar pondered on his last statement. Since the Black Death would not kill the trees, Agar could transfer the spirits of the people into the trees until the danger had passed. Though Nicolas thought this as a great plan, Agar surmised that once the spirits transferred from their human forms, they could not transfer back.  After Agar dismissed Nicholas to ponder on a possible solution, he came up with the idea to carve replicas of the villagers and transfer their spirits into the woodcarvings.  After the plague passed the woodcarvings would exist as living people in the smaller form of the woodcarvings.

Later, Nicholas returned to Agar to see if he had come up with a solution. Before Agar could answer, Nicholas watched Agar carve wood. First surprised in believing Agar no longer took the problem seriously, he picked up one carving, a likeness of Agar’s wife, Astrid. Nicholas caught on.

Though not finished with his carvings he and Nicholas decided that it was time to discuss the situation with the rest of the people.  The terrified villagers became distraught about the fate ahead.  They wondered what it would be like to live as miniature people.  How would they function in the world? Furthermore, who would protect them while in this fragile state? Agar promised that he and his descendants would take care of them through his powers.  Those would become the keepers of the villagers to preserve their safety.

After long discussions, most of the villagers agreed. They trusted Nicholas and Agar as great leaders who had led them through many difficult times. Some discussed the time of the great famine twenty years earlier. Nicholas, out of his good heart and charity sent food and much of the villager’s crafted wears to help those in need. As the famine subsided, Nicholas and the villagers’ generosity continued. Decades later, Nicholas gathered the crafts and wears from the villagers to give to the needy. Before the plague, he chose to honor his name-sake and gave on Christmas Eve night with the use of his sleigh of the hardened snow and the use of one villager, Lars’ reindeer.

Nicholas asked if Agar could transfer some of his powers to allow him to continue his Christmas Eve run after the transfer took place. Since Agar knew Nicholas’ desire, he told him the magic will be there for the yearly trek and that the villagers could continue their arts and crafts to give. Lars discovered Nicholas’ request and thought the villagers should come equipped with reindeer and a tiny sleigh. Agar agreed since Lars promised he would carve the reindeer. Though Lars requested up to a dozen reindeer, Agar informed Lars he would only have time to carve eight tiny reindeer. Lars did as Agar suggested.

The Olufs

Only one family in Norlund, the Olufs, who lived on the edge of the village and held themselves apart, disagreed with Agar’s prediction. Years ago, they traveled across the seas as fishermen and known many cultures.  Upon their arrival, Agar took on Oluf as his spiritual apprentice. Not yet as strong as Agar, Oluf had often argued against Agar’s beliefs. For him Agar’s shaman ways were outdated.  He did not believe the Black Death would come since they were a small village.  Also, in all their travels that had not seen the signs of the upcoming death. Nicholas and Agar tried to reason with Oluf and his clan, but failed.

The rest of the villagers went ahead with Agar’s plans and knew they had to hurry along. They also worried about where they would live since their homes would no longer be usable in their smaller size.  Agar’s wife, Sigrid, who also loved her people, came up with a solution.  Since she and Agar had a larger home than most of the others but had no children to share, they would convert the largest room of their house and set up a new village, a replica much of their own.  Sigrid organized the woodworkers into building a smaller version of the village complete with houses, furniture, and even wagons, and sleds.  Not only would they would have everything they would need to live as smaller people, but the project helped the villagers’ minds to focus away from the approaching doom.

As Agar finished the carvings of those who believed, he once again tried to convince Oluf to join them. He expressed he had time to carve figures of Oluf’s family. However, he refused and made fun of him for what he believed were unnecessary preparations.  Oluf tried to convince the rest of the villagers that Agar was not in his right mind.  Since Oluf and his family did not believe the magic would not work with them even if he carved their image and attempted to evoke the magic. The villagers did not waiver in their belief in Agar’s powers and continued.

Datter Som Tar seg av Landsbyboerne – ‘The Daughter Who Cares for the Village’ (Later Americanized as ‘The Santa Keepers’)

As the Black Death approached, the villagers began to die, one by one, Agar transferred their spirits. As Nicholas and Astrid, they realized in horror that no carving of Agar or Sigrid remained.  Agar explained that he and Sigrid would not join them as miniatures.  Sigrid would survive the plague, but he would need to use the rest of his magical powers to transfer the rest of his powers to Sigrid, powers to protect and care for the villagers. Furthermore, this power would give Sigrid the power to bring them back to life after the danger of the Black Death had passed.

Sigrid agreed to her husband’s decision. Her love for him gave her the strength she needed to succeed.  She decided not to bother Agar with her recent discovery of her pregnancy. But Agar knew her secret and was ecstatic.  He would not only transfer his magic to Sigrid but also to his child to continue to keep the villagers safe.  This power would transfer down to the eldest daughter throughout the generations.

Moments before Nicholas and Astrid’s bodies died from the plague, they expressed to Agar they will honor him by doing good deeds for others in any way they could, Christmas Eve night and throughout the entire year. Filled with joy over Nicolas’ and Astrid’s promise, and finished transferring them to their woodcarving form, Agar then told his wife he would not join them, the all his powers now spent and fell into a trance and vanished. Sigrid wept, then strengthened herself to begin her tasks.

Though the Black Death wound down, the last spread across the land of the Olufs. Oluf came to Sigrid’s door to beg Agar to help them. Sigrid told them he died and that there was nothing she could do.  She did not have the same powers that Agar had possessed.  He became angry despite Agar had given him several opportunities to save him and his family.  As members of their family died, they blamed Agar and Nicholas for not forcing them to take part in the spirit transfer.

Since the Black Death struck his family, and Oluf hastily carved figures for them, he discovered that not only the task was too late, but he did not have the magic to save all or some of his family.  At a last-ditch effort, Oluf used all his magic to save himself in hopes to figure a way to save them. But most of his family perished. Oluf became more determined to save his dead family and devised a solution – to rob Agar’s magic from the villagers – if he could find them. His magic gave Oluf the ability to never die and find the magical villagers.

Sigrid discovered Oluf’s plan to hunt and destroy the villagers. She used some of her new powers to cast a spell on the villagers not only to become masked, even if in front of Oluf, but also by preventing anyone else who ever spotted them from telling others. Oluf became even more enraged but could not break Sigrid’s spell.

Once the danger of the Black Death had passed Sigrid brought the villagers back to life.  They had many adjustments to make but with help from Sigrid and her daughter, Ragna, they soon established a new life in the miniature village. To add to Agar’s protective magic, Sigrid moved her family and the villagers south to Rognan, a town near a northwestern fjord in Norway. The gift giving tasks that started in Agar’s memory continues.

With Nicholas’ leadership, the villagers and the ‘granddaughter’s’ family did all they could to fill his pouch. Though Nicholas did all he could to keep hidden from view, many people have spotted the small wood carving, his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer but could not report the sight. Agar’s magic prevented the exact scene, but only can come up with their own version. Thus, the legend gave birth to the ‘Santa Claus’ legend and shaped by new visions after each who spotted Nicholas (such people as Clemet Clark Moore, Thomas Nast and Robert L. May to name a few.) Today, little does anyone know that everything they’ve been taught and know about ‘Santa Claus’ lay in an attic of a house in Duluth, Minnesota.