Family Traditions


Where has the year gone? I’ve spent much of this year addressing carbon pollution-free electricity and COVID-19 on this page.

This month, it has been a pleasure helping judge the hundreds of cookie recipes we received as part of our reader Christmas cookie contest.

WECA’s Jennifer Taylor puts some artful touches on the display pictured on the cover. Associate Editor Mary Erickson stands ready with the camera.

Last December, we issued a call for your favorite cookie recipes. Jennifer Taylor, editorial assistant of this magazine and recipe pages guru, facilitated the contest. All staff members chose a handful of recipes, baked them, and brought them into the office. Cookies were sorted, artfully arranged, photographed, and then packaged up. Finally, we all took home giant bags of cookies and score sheets to evaluate the entries with our families. Our very favorites appear on pages 20-22.

As I looked through each of these recipes and the notes some folks added about how every Christmas they would make these, or they were for Santa or a favorite of grandma’s, it put me in the mindset of my own family’s traditions. And after the effects of the pandemic that have worn on us, celebrating those traditions with our own families will feel extra special this Christmas.

It might also be nice to create a few new traditions so, in years to come, we can tell our grandkids what we did to celebrate and get by back during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My grandparents were great at telling stories from the old days and the challenges they faced when they got married in 1928, followed by the arrival of their first child in 1929. My Aunt Margaret was born just at the start of the Great Depression.

This year’s Christmas Cookie Contest became a family affair. Violet, daughter of WECA Director of Government Relations Rob Richard, baked a number of the entries for judging.

Fortunately, they owned our family farm, so they experienced the depression differently than many did. But times were still tough for them, and when my dad came along in 1932, he would be a big help working horses on the farm as he grew up.

During the second world war, our farm was awarded a certificate of farm war service because we enlisted in all-out-farm war production for food for America. Try to imagine this time—the family only used horses to farm. This is when many of our family traditions started, and centered around the farm, the family, and our church. Those were always the underlying elements in every tradition we have.

I still put the small candleholders and candles on the Christmas tree as our family has done since arriving on the farm in 1874. Grandma would only light them just before the family went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and for just long enough to say prayers around the Christmas tree.

My family received this Certificate of Farm War Service during World War II for our efforts in wartime food production. The certificate is signed by Claude Wickard, then-USDA Secretary of Agriculture. His slogan at that time was “Food will win the war and write the peace.” Wickard later went on to lead the Rural Electrification Administration.












Many of the ornaments on my tree are from my grandparents and great-grandparents, including those brought over from Germany when my great-great-grandparents immigrated to America. I put the very bubble lights my grandma got right after they got electricity on my Christmas tree and think about all the good times I had helping her decorate her tree in the front parlor of her house on the farm. These bubble lights are relatively rare since they snap apart, so you can replace any burned-out bulbs.

Lexi, daughter of Director of News and Communication Julie Lund, helped with judging.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals were the focal point of family get-togethers. I have shared with you in the past what my family’s traditional Christmas Eve meal has been and included recipes. This year I thought I would share with you three family recipes of my favorite cookies. We make them every Christmas. The first is from my late mother-in-law, and they are delicious ginger snaps; the second two are from my Grandma Freese. One is a traditional cutout, and the second is an oatmeal cookie with a Wisconsin twist. I add “Craisins” instead of raisins. I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I do and enjoy the recipes from our winners in the recipe contest we conducted. I hope you and your family have a safe and wonderful holiday season!