A gift of family, a gift of love
Source: Poul Riemerman, December 2010, Valley CityND.
Eva Pedersen has seen many Christmases in her 93 years.
Born in 1917 in Valley City, Pedersen’s given name was Synove Evangeline Falstad. It was later anglicized to Eva.
“I was seventh of nine children, and I’m the only one still living,” Pedersen said on Tuesday.
Her earliest Christmas memories were with her father Ellef, suffered a serious stroke in 1921 when she was 4, and died in 1936.
She still keeps her father’s old rocking chair, now re-upholstered, in her living room. “We put him in the chair for for Chrismas Eve,” she said.
Much of the celebration took place on Christmas Eve, but only after many chores and a dinner “that seemed to take forever,” Pedersen said.
Pedersen said Santa Claus is called Nisemon in Norway. The family lived on a farm in Green Township, Barnes County.
Pedersen said after dinner family said a prayer in Norwegian, then put the tree in middle of the floor and the kids sang a Christmas song in Norwegian while marching around the tree. “Then we did the Christmas program. That evening we lit the Christmas candles, and clamped them on the branches.”
The family only spoke Norwegian at home, and Eva didn’t use English until she started school.
Presents came Christmas Day. “We didn’t open presents until late, and one present was shared by two people.
“On Christmas morning the bigger sisters gave us breakfast in bed, and me and my younger sister, Bergit, shared a present.”
Pedersen had two brothers, Bergir and Ingman.
She recalls one year she got a doll, “and my brother pulled the arms off my doll.”
She and sister Eleanor got even with her brother. “Me and my sister did a lot of outside work. My parents brought home a red wagon for my brother, and we used it to clean out the cow bam. It was his present, and we gave it to him (after cleaning out the bam). Mother made us clean it off
She remembers one year that’ her big brother drove the children to church in a horse-drawn sleigh Christmas morning. “Mom, before we left, said don’t eat the apple you get at the Christmas program – bring it home and I’ll bake a pie.”
With nine apples, one for each child, there was enough to bake a pie.
Pedersen recalls a Norwegian tradition the family practiced between Christmas and New Year’s called julebukking, where children visited neighbors dressed in costume. The neighbors then had to guess who the children were.
After growing up with eight siblings, Pedersen had eight children of her own, including Diane Bjerke, who was at her side on Tuesday at her mother’s home on Third Avenue Northeast.
Bjerke said her parents never bought any gifts until Christmas Eve because the cost was lowest at that point.
Said Pedersen, “My husband (Paul) butchered a pig for Christmas money, and Diane used to sleep under the Christmas tree for two weeks before Christmas.”
Said Bjerke, “As a child, Christmas was very simple, but she gave to us simplicity and unconditional love, and we have tried to pass that on to our children – a gift of family and a gift of love.“