Your guide to family events, stories and news in Western Wisconsin.


You do WHAT for Christmas?

Chippewa Valley families share their favorite holiday traditions


Whichever holidays families celebrate this time of year, they inevitably develop traditions: Religious or secular, serious of silly, maintained for generations or created just for today’s generation, these traditions serve as familiar touchstones as our families grow and change. We recently asked some of our readers about what traditions their families have revived, created, and continued year in and year out.

The holiday traditions in Eastern France start on Dec. 6 for “la Saint Nicolas.” Children discover chocolate, mandarin oranges, and walnuts in their slippers. Then there is Christmas on the 25th. Then the season finishes on Jan. 6 for Epiphany (Three Kings’ Day). We eat a galette des rois (“king’s pie”) which is puff pastry with an almond filling, and a figurine inside. Whoever finds the figurine is the queen/king for the day and gets to pick a queen/king and both rule the family. Usually parents cheat so that children get the figurine. That item is nowadays made of porcelain, but back in the day it was a dry bean, called “fève.” It is still referred to as “fève” today. If you count the days between Christmas and Epiphany, there are 12 days. Those are the real 12 days of Christmas in the famous song, which proves wrong all those people who throw away their trees right after Christmas. The season is just getting started!

– Jessica Sertling Miller, Eau Claire

Retired tradition: Back home (in the D.C. suburbs), my family always gets Chinese food on Christmas Eve after church. I can’t find any Asian places open on Christmas Eve here (certainly not my favorites), so we’ve had to retire this tradition. I’m trying to find something to replace it (appetizers? dips?) but haven’t found the right thing yet.

Continued tradition: My husband always reads The Night Before Christmas to the kids, which his dad read to him. On New Year’s Eve we have fondue and on New Year’s Day we have black beans, another tradition from his side. Most of my family’s traditions growing up involved huge family gatherings, which we just don’t have here, sadly.

New tradition: On Christmas morning I make a batch of cinnamon rolls. We freeze half of the batch to eat on New Year’s morning.

– Katie Venit, Eau Claire

Each year on Thanksgiving we decorate our Christmas tree. Before we start, we give our sons a present to open; it is always a new Christmas ornament for the tree. When they have families of their own and decorate their own Christmas trees, they will each have 18 ornaments from their childhood to get them started, even if Buzz Lightyear no longer declares, “To infinity and beyond!” I enjoy hearing them tell me the stories of when they got this or that ornament. I hope their children enjoy the stories, too. The night always ends with “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Hearing Aunt Bethany recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the dinner table never gets old!

– Susan Santee-Buenger, Eau Claire

Our family was in charge of the cookie plate for the extended family Christmas. This means that my mom, sister, and I made over 13 kinds of cookies for our cookie plate every year. My sister and I aren’t as involved any more, but my mom usually saves the Swedish Cremes for us to make (butter shortbread rounds with almond frosting, also known as “little hamburger cookies”). When I was in Peace Corps, Mom sent me a container of cookies that was the best Christmas present. We also cut down a Christmas tree from the myriad red cedar trees growing wild in the pastures around our house. This started when I was very little. There is a story about arriving back at the house in the old beater truck and getting out of the truck to get the tree and not finding it in the truck: It had fallen out on the bumpy way out of the field. Getting the tree has evolved into a high-level negotiation and a reminder of perspective. (The perfect tree is always two times too big.) My parents still wait to put up the tree until we get back home so we can get it as a family. (Dad does a lot of scoping out of possibilities, but it can be an epic tromping around.)

– Rachel Hart-Brinson, Eau Claire

My husband’s family has a tradition that they go to a store on Christmas Eve (right before they close) and pick out one small present for either themselves or each other. They also get Cokes in a bottle and watch a Christmas movie (I think usually The Muppet Christmas Carol). Growing up, my family used to go cut down a tree and took forever to pick the right one. We would do this the day after Thanksgiving. We also always went to a family friend’s house on Christmas Eve (and ate lots of shrimp). Now our family tends to put up our fake tree (I’m still working on getting a real one someday) around the first day of November. We do the last gift thing, too. And the past two years we have had Christmas Eve alone at home, woken up and exchanged gifts the next day, then driven the 8 or 9 hours to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Christmas with extended family.

– Meredith Hollars, Eau Claire

Adults in my extended family drew names and exchanged a $2 gift – something you made for $2. These ranged from lovely things (a beautifully crafted cutting board) to lovely but quirky things (one was a Nativity scene in which the characters were made of bassoon reeds) to things that utilized a special skill  (I once received an original song written by my composer uncle and performed by my professional singer aunt) to just plain silly things (necklaces made from bent nails that for some reason made an appearance again and again). Emphasis was often put on originality, being perfectly tailored to the interests/qualities of the recipient, and especially humor. Two-dollar gifts would frequently come with a silly, and often lengthy, card that the recipient would have to read out loud before opening the gift. In time, due to inflation and a lot of cheating, the maximum spent because $5, but we never renamed the gifts. They remained $2 gifts.

– Anna Gullickson Rybicki, Eau Claire

This was made by