Gretchen Carlson: My Christmas memories

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Gretchen Carlson’s best-selling memoir “Getting Real” about her Christmas traditions, including her Swedish heritage and the violin music in her life.

Anoka, Minnesota was small but in terms of family and community it was huge. All my relatives lived less than a mile away.  Of course, being Swedish American was a big deal growing up.  Our lives were influenced in many ways by Swedish culture, but mostly it was the food, especially around the Christmas holidays.  That’s when you knew you were really Swedish!

Maybe the one time it wasn’t so great was when the lutefisk dinners started cropping up on the family schedule. In Minnesota, you can find a lutefisk dinner every night of the week in December at some area church. Lutefisk is a Swedish “delicacy” that you can only get at a butcher shop around Christmastime. It’s actually cod, except that they soak it in lye for several days – that’s right, lye. The stuff you make soap with. My mom bought it at the butcher’s shop and kept it in the garage until Christmas Eve.  Number one, to keep it cold. Number two, because it stunk so bad there wasn’t enough Lysol on the planet to deodorize the refrigerator once the lutefisk had been inside. 

It had to be baked in a foil pan because it would blacken any real dish.  When it came out, it wobbled on the plate like jellyfish, with the bones still in it.  We’d douse it in melted butter and a glue-like white sauce – all to try to hide the taste. By high school I had finally acquired a taste for it – kind of.

My mom always cooked Christmas Eve dinner for the whole family because Grandpa and Grandma Hyllengren were so busy at church. (My grandfather was a minister and I would perform my violin at every Christmas Eve service. There were at least 4!)  Besides lutefisk, we had Swedish meatballs, pickled herring and lefse, a soft potato pancake cooked thin like a crepe.  You’d roll it up and put butter and sugar in it.

For dessert, we would also eat Swedish cookies called krumkake, a rolled waffle cookie, and spritz with jelly filling. The adults drank glogg out of mugs. It was a very potent concoction of spiced wine and spirits.

After we ate and before we opened presents, the children in my family performed our own Christmas pageant. We’d play Christmas carols on our instruments, and then we’d do a Nativity play where we’d take turns playing Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.  Inevitably a fight would break out and someone would end up running crying to their room! 

The Carlson Swedish tradition was to open presents from each other on Christmas Eve and presents from Santa on Christmas morning.  Presents from Santa were never wrapped and years later I figured out why. There was no time for my parents to get it all done with cooking, church and my dad singing in the choir for the 11:00pm service!  I’ve kept the tradition going!  I now carry on the same Christmas traditions for my husband and children … except for the lutefisk!

Christmas time is about family, friends and remembering Jesus’ birth. MERRY CHRISTMAS!  And may you all have a wonderful time praising the Christ child.