Love, joy and magic

Locals share their Christmastime traditions

The Christmas season is a special time of year for many Central Iowans. From movie marathons to signature meals, to reading bedtime stories, attending Christmas Eve worship services, baking, and more, locals discuss their traditions of Christmases past, and ones continued to this day.

“Our family of six would load up in the Ford station wagon and head to the Lamoille Congregational Church for the Christmas Eve Pageant,” recalled Deb Ewoldt. “Many times we would be a part of the pageant and mom might sometimes play the piano or organ. At the end of the evening, all the kids were given a church-shaped box that held hard candies and chocolates. We drove the short four miles home with our noses pressed against the car windows as we tried to catch a glimpse of Santa in the starlit sky. This tradition goes back to when I was a young child, and as time has passed and my family has spread their wings, sadly it has gone by the wayside.”

For Marvis Fuller Drew, the excitement of meeting Santa was palpable.

“As a small child growing up in Gilman, Santa would come to the huge old amphitheater building,” she said. “We would climb the many outside stairs in anticipation of seeing Santa, telling him our wishes. After what seemed like a very long wait, we would hear the jingle bells and hear his bellowing ‘HO HO HO.’ After assuring him we had been good little boys and girls, he would give us candy, and we would settle down and watch a movie.”

No Christmas celebration would be complete without an abundance of food, and the cuisine on the menu can vary widely.

“My father was born of Czech parents who immigrated to this country from Czechoslovakia and my mother’s grandparents also immigrated from there, so Czech food made up our Christmas dinner of: roast duck, sauerkraut, potato dumplings laced with duck grease, rolhicky and kolaches,” said Sharon Witty. “Today, roast duck, kraut, dumplings and rolhicky no longer grace the dinner table, but when my family of origin gathers to celebrate Christ’s birth, someone always brings kolaches (a fruit-filled pastry). It’s mandatory!”

“My Christmas memories are all about familia,” said David Barajas, Jr. “Making dozens and dozens of fresh tamales on Christmas Eve at Grandma Barajas’ house is a wonderful memory and smell that is imbedded in my mind forever. At the same time my sisters, cousins and I would be searching the sky for Rudolph’s red nose, and listening to the radio reports so that we knew when to tell mom and dad that it was time to get home so that Santa could visit our house. Today, Tammy, Mady, Mia and I continue the tradition of making fresh tamales at our home with my mom for the Christmas Season. Feliz Navidad a todos!”

Usually at least one person in the family is the keeper of the special recipes.

“My Aunt Elaine always brought braided cherry bread to family Christmas,” recalled Lynne Carroll. “I have continued this tradition and it is a family favorite! My daughters have learned how to make it too.”

While we may know every word by heart, some stories are so timeless, we read them over and over.

“One of my favorite traditions about Christmas is reading the ‘Night Before Christmas’ on Christmas Eve,” said Terri Hungerford. “We started this tradition when our kids were very young and we continue to read the book to this day. We all get our pajamas on after we get home from Christmas Eve church service and gather beside our fireplace to listen to the story. It is a chance for us to be together as a family. After we finish reading, we set out the cookies and milk for Santa (we also include carrots for the reindeer).”

Christmas can also bring with it lessons we carry throughout our lives — such as understanding it’s not what we get as gifts, but the thought behind them that counts.

“When I was old enough to know the value of certain gifts, I remember being slightly miffed that my grandma, Vivian Phillips Duncan, didn’t keep the gifts ‘even’ in value,” recalled Pat Thompson. “That is when I learned that price value to grandma wasn’t as important as giving each of us a gift that she wanted us to have. When I find myself caught up in trying to be ‘fair’ with my own three grandchildren, I remember grandma and do my best to choose what I want each to have. I will always marvel that her seven grandchildren felt so very special all the time. We were each her ‘favorite.'”

Marshalltown Mayor-Elect Joel Greer also echoed the special contributions grandmothers offer on Christmas.

“As a child, my five siblings and I grew up in a home literally across the street from our mom’s mom in Spencer. She kept a pair of binoculars on her desk to keep track of each of us,” he recalled. “Our tradition was a huge meal in her old brick Tudor home, with our dad filming the whole thing under lights that could have lit up a football stadium. No such meal was complete without plenty of radishes that Nana thought were my favorite food. To this day I am kidded by the siblings about the radishes. Presents were her other thing. The others got sweaters and I’d get a bike or little sailboat. We’re all still in counseling to deal with the inequities.”

While traditions abound, it doesn’t mean there are any set rules one must follow to enjoy this season.

“Since I am a single mom and I share custody with their dad, every other year I don’t have the kids on Christmas Day, so when I get them back on New Year’s Eve afternoon, we celebrate by watching the ball drop and eat fun snacks. But then when they go to bed, I roll back time and it’s Christmas and when they wake up New Year’s Day, we do Christmas just like it was on Dec 25th,” said Heidi Draisey. “In the end, it doesn’t matter about the date but about enjoying our traditions of waking up to do presents, enjoying my mother’s homemade rolls, watching a parade and having a leisure day in our jammies to enjoy each other’s company and play with our new fun gifts.”


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or