Holiday Traditions


This year, we’re sharing some of the locals’ holiday traditions. Maybe you’ve heard of these traditions before, or maybe you’d just like to give them a try yourself. Behind every one is a fascinating history, originating from the families of Syracuse citizens. We hope that reading these stories will get you in the holiday spirit.

Autumn’s husband, getting his present from Sinterklaas

Autumn Reynolds Van Komen:
My family is Dutch, and we celebrate St. Nicholas on the 5th of December every year. On a typical year we have a big family party, eat Dutch food and treats, and sing Dutch music. Afterwards, Sinterklaas comes to our house with one gift for each person. As our name gets called, we go sit on his lap, open the present, and say ‘thank you’. That night, we leave our wooden shoes out to be filled, and we wake up to a fun morning! Usually the shoes are filled with Dutch candies, gold coins, Dutch gummies, chocolate, and little gifts individually wrapped. We look forward to it every year.

Michael Naylor:
My family has always dressed up as shepherds for the nativity on Christmas Eve. I brought home a Persian lamp from Afghanistan that we use now. The younger kids have always loved it, because we all dress up a bit, and then darken the house and come into the living room together. It’s always reverent and spiritual; it seems like the best way to read the nativity as a family.

Sarah Ford:
My husband’s family has a stuffing recipe that originated in England and was brought across the plains with his ancestors. The recipe was handed down to each subsequent generation, and now our children make it. It’s just not Thanksgiving without it! My husband’s great-great grandfather was Charles Lambert, a stone mason who worked on the Nauvoo temple in Illinois and on the Salt Lake Temple. In fact, he carved many of the old headstones in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the Bountiful City Cemetery. My husband was born and raised in Bountiful. The recipe for Parsley stuffing is attributed to his line.*

My family celebrates St. Lucia day on December 13th, as my grandparents were from Sweden. My daughter has a white dress and candle crown, and passes out sweet buns and hot chocolate and coffee. We also have a traditional Smorgasbord on Christmas Eve, and make Risa a la Malta and Pepparkokker (gingerbread cookies).

Sarah’s daughter, Miley, as St. Lucia.

I lived in St. Lucia when I was young (about five years old) until I got married. My daughter continues the tradition now, although I had to get her a new crown because mine stopped working a few years ago! (A family in Sweden sent it to us). I was taught that St. Lucia is an Italian saint who brought light and food to the north when there was a famine in the deep of winter. Anyway, she brought food to the people of Sweden who were starving. She wore a crown of candles to bring light into the darkness of the deep winter. It’s never fully light in the majority of Sweden in winter; likewise, in summer it is never fully dark. When I visited Sweden it was like dusk, even at midnight.

Traditionally, on December 13th, a daughter of the household (some families have their eldest daughter, some the youngest), wakes the family with saffron buns and coffee, singing St. Lucia’s song to commemorate the visit of the Saint. Villages and church congregations also have a girl who is nominated to be St Lucia in their services. A young boy always follows her, and he is referred to as the Star Child. They visit members of the congregation, participate in the service, and visit members of their community, bringing gifts. The tradition was brought here by my grandfather, who immigrated to the United States in 1929. When I was a child, I wore the traditional St Lucia white dress, red sash, and crown of candles which are battery operated for safety. Since saffron is very expensive and somewhat of an acquired taste, my family always made cinnamon buns and had hot cocoa for the kids. I learned the song as well. My daughter wears the dress and sash now. (The crown was replaced a few years ago, because after more than twenty-five years, mine no longer worked).

Katherine Kid Chase:
My grandma, Bonnie Jorgensen, makes and sells candies and chocolates at Christmas (including caramel, fondant and divinity, etc). She sometimes sells them at boutiques, and has sold them to neighbors and friends for as long as I can remember. She’s amazing; she’s in her eighties now, and still does it every year. She taught her kids, they’ve taught theirs, and now my generation is passing it to our children. We always have a “candy- making” Saturday, where we dip chocolates/caramels to give to neighbors, teachers, and family members who are out of town or live far away.

Lindsi Moore Ingrum:
My mom, aunts, and grandmother dip chocolates and give them to their neighbors every year. A lot of work goes into it. They use fondant (not the frosting kind) and dip it in chocolate. They also do turtles, peanut clusters, and Ritz Crackers with peanut butter.

Tanya Atterman Bigler:
Every Christmas, we freeze water in ice cream buckets to make ice blocks. We carve a rounded space on one side (or preferably, don’t let it freeze solid), drill a hole through the top, then place it over a candle and put it out on the lawn or porch Christmas Eve. We have one “ice candle” for each family member who has passed on who can’t be with us for Christmas. It’s so beautiful to see their light shine through the cold snowy night. They will usually stay lit for over twenty-four hours.

Jill Bonsteel:
We are Danish; my great grandma Lettie Peterson would put milk gravy on everything. Our family motto is “better the belly be busted than good food be wasted,” spoken with a strong Scandinavian accent. Our traditional Christmas breakfast* (enjoyed by Papa Elden Peterson, Dad Eric Peterson, myself, and all my children) has been eaten every single Christmas morning of our lives. Our oldest son, not wanting to break tradition, also made it on two Christmas mornings while serving his mission in Mexico. It wouldn’t be Christmas without this breakfast! Luckily, I married a man who not only supports this tradition, but loves it too).

*You can find Ye Old Holiday Recipes at the links below.

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