"Tish-ah, tish-ah!" was the sound the six-foot-high prairie grass made as pioneer wagons pushed through the great unknown of the American Heartland in O. E. Rolvaag's, "Giants in the Earth." Stadem Family Norwegian forebears were among those who made the long, epic journey and settled in the Dakota Territory after the Civil War. Born there in a sod house and inured to hardship and farm work from an early age, Alfred Stadem grew up on a pioneer farm.

Still a farmer, he took a bride and never wavered in his choice of occupation, even when later he had seven daughters and two sons to support during the Great depression and the Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930's.

Alfred's bride-to-be, Bergit Holbeck, emigrated from Mandal, Norway, in her late teens. Her parents had died, leaving a brother, a sister, and herself in poverty on a tiny farm. Before long they had all sailed by boat to America, simply to find honest work and enough to eat.

Pearl their first-born and eldest daughter relates: "Christmas for my parents and their parents were often sparse because times were hard living off the plains."

Pearl has vivid memories of their life on the farm in Dakota. Particularly at Christmas, when the children learned to use their wits to advantage. They were a poor family, but they knew of a church five miles from the farm that customarily gave away sacks of fruit and candy to children on Christmas Eve.

After prevailing on their parents, the children were delighted when their "Papa" started hitching up the horses to the old sleigh. They were thrilled to each get a sack of candy, which they didn't get at Bryant their home church. Soon off they went into the cold, wintry dark of a Christmas Eve. There was much laughter mingled with the ringing of the sleighbells, and the six children could hardly wait for the journey to end, remembers Pearl. The horses went too close to the ditch, it was pitch dark, and over they went. The sleigh tipped everybody into the deep snow of the ditch. Pearl says, "We weren't hurt because of the snow, and Mama still had Baby in her arms. But we lost our candy sacks! We started rooting around and found them we thought. Then we settled back in the sleigh. Papa said he would go look for one more. He pushed his feet around and found one! We were so happy, since we had obeyed the pastor not to open the sacks until we got home. Otherwise we would not have been able to find the candy if it had spilled from opened sacks. That was our reward for obedience!

Gift-giving on Christmas was sparse. One Christmas, a sister to Pearl wrapped an item and laid it beside their mother's jar of peanut butter beneath the "tree." Fortunately, their Papa was a man of few words, and knew how to act pleased when he opened his gift - the two letters "AA" he himself had carved and gilded for church for a previous Christmas Eve recital. A child had worn those two Norwegian letters on a string around his neck and exclaimed: "Hark! (the meaning of "AA" in English) Christ Our Savior is born this day in the city of..."

Dinner was never frugal. If gift-giving was sparse on Christmas Eve, dinner on Christmas Day was more than compensation. Flotbrod, lefse, turkey or chicken, cranberry-apple salad, apple and pumpkin pie with whipped cream gave them ample occasion to feast like royalty. Starting several weeks before Christmas, their mother had prepared flotbrod and lefse and other special delicacies of Norwegian cuisine.

There was no need for a Christmas tree of their own. The bank in town always donated a genuine evergreen - shipped in from distant parts - and placed it in the Lutheran church.

Before electricity, the tree was covered with wax candles. After the candles were lit at the special Christmas Eve service, two men stood on each side ready to snuff out the flames if the branches caught on fire.

"Our Family's Move to the Great Pacific Northwest from South Dakota in 1942 & Traditional Scandinavian Christmas Fare,"

by Ronald Ginther (Alfred Stadem's grandson and Pearl Stadem-Ginther's son)

"When my mother and father and family moved to the Northwest, my father had visions of shining white cities on the hills and spread out beneath them, fruitful valleys of the Pacific Northwest, and what he found met his eye equalled his dreams. It was 1942, America was a modern nation, with airplanes, radio, and factories, and shipyards, so he did not consider himself a pioneer, and yet he was one of thousands who daringly left the Dakotas and other Midwest states during the 40's of better opportunities in the West--that took a lot of pioneer gumption and grit evenso.

We settled in what is still largely a Scandinavian community on Puyallup's North Hill [now the city of Edgewood]. The Norwegian chicken farmers, fishermen, and carpenters and painters were mostly common, hard-working folk. Their wives were pure artists in the kitchen.

"Dinners at Mt. View Lutheran, Pearl's Norwegian-founded church, challenged the smorgasbords of the Old Country. The ladies always brought their finest delicacies to church socials, and, of course, Christmas-time was the scene for the best of Scandinavian goodies, such as fattigman, yulecake, rosettes, lefse and krumkake, which would fulfill any sweet tooth."

A Norwegian immigrant lady tells the story of her Christmases back in the Old Country, Norway:

"Christmas in Norway" by Mrs. Mabel Forness, Homemaker and friend of Pearl Stadem Ginther

Mabel, a trim, smiling little Norwegian in stature who lived very quietly and industriously and passed away at age 94, came to America from Molde, Norway (a small fishing town on the west coast), and she remembers Christmas as being "a real Christmas" in Norway.

"We didn't have so many frills," she related. "Christmas Eve was the day we brought in the tree and set it up. Children got new clothes their mothers had made. And the women brought out the lefse and yulekake they had made and hidden away for the special day." Krumkake, a delicacy resembling thin ice cream cones, and sweet bread with raisins and fruits (no frosting) made special appearances only on Christmas Eve.

Church-going was a luxury back then in some isolated parts of Norway. People had to walk miles to the nearest church and even go by boat part of the way. Once or twice a year they got to church. The school, however, staged a "Yulefest." All the people dressed in their newest, brightest clothes and walked around the Christmas Tree, their hands joined as they sang a Christmas carol.

At home, on Christmas Eve, there was little if any gift-giving. The father of the family would read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke and the family would enjoy a special meal. They never celebrated before Christmas Eve, but once the celebration started, it would continue for a week. Families and friends would visit back and forth delivering cookies, cakes and breads during this time.

In Norway if a child went to bed on Christmas Eve and woke with an orange on his pillow, it was the "Yulenisse," who had paid the lad or little girl a nighttime visit. Seldom seen, he was a little man in a red suit carrying a pack filled with good things. It was not often he stopped in such far off, out-of-the-way spots as the little town of Molde. For barely subsisting "plain folks," he was just another frill they could ill afford to encourage in the youth. Lacking luxury, however, made Christmas seem more "real."

Mama Bergit Stadem's Christmas Letter of 1978:

Dear Children of Mine, Grandchildren & all my friends & Jesus friends & Relatives - (HE loves us all).

We look forward to a Blessed Christmas get-together. When we have JESUS and His FATHER we have a lot to be thankful for. Praise the Father & Son. JESUS is our WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR, MIGHTY GOD and PRINCE OF PEACE. Isaiah 9:6.

This is how God showed His love for us: "He sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through Him." I John 4:9 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27

I sure remember in Norway when Christmas was getting close we sure tried hard to help along. Our Mama was with us then, and happy to think of Jesus who was born in a manger long ago, and then He suffered on the cross to take away our sins. In Norway we used to hold hands and walk around, hand in hand around the Christmas tree and we all sang. It came from our hearts. We sure loved to sing about JESUS.

My health is pretty good at 93. Grandma loves to go to the church on Sundays and also help make quilts for those poor people in far away lands.

I want to pray for all of you to have JESUS in your hearts this Christmas and always. It's so wonderful to think about Jesus how HE wants all to praise and love HIM so we all take time to pray to HIM for help. Jesus is always ready to help when we always want to go & live the way Jesus wants us to live. Jesus did all that HE could to get us to understand the wonderful place (heaven), He has for all that will come to Him and do His will. Yes, hate the devil and all his ways and all his will. Instead we must love our wonderful Jesus that suffered and died for all of us. Jesus wanted all of us to follow Him the right way. Jesus will show us.

I sure remember the cold day when Pearl (my oldest daughter) was going to pick corn for people that wanted her and off she went and surely worked hard. Had horses, 2 of them to pull the wagon. Cold as it was, but the Lord was with her and took care of her, Praise the Lord. Jesus doesn't want to forget anyone - Praise His Name! There was lots of snow to walk in then too. Thanks for what you made when here for my plant to hang in [a plant hanger was sent to Grandma made of seashells by Darrell and Ronald, sons of Pearl, her eldest daughter]. Water it a little every day. I do like plants. God took my oldest boy [Arthur] at the same time as Pearl's husband. They were both ready to meet the Lord. This is wonderful even though it is hard to see when dear ones are taken away so young. Our Father in heaven will always know what He is doing in the future for all of us. Lord help us all to always do THY will. I look forward to meeting all our dear ones, including my husband, in our HEAVENLY HOME.

Greeting and thanks for writing so nice to Grandma. Grandma loves you all, old and young.

You are all dear, yes, the Lord bless you all. I love you all here and also wherever you are.

Under His Wings my soul shall abide, Safely abide forever. (Praise His NAME)

(Grandma) Mrs. Bergit Stadem

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