Throughout the season of Christmas traditions flood your mind as you go Christmas shopping or watch another Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel. I have many. There is the time spent with family and my grandma giving us all food poisoning from a bad batch of Lutefisk. My cousin, Heidi, got the worst of it and could be seen by us and the whole congregation puking out front of the church. There is the ultimate Christmas program at that small Lutheran church where my brother, Casey, was tasked to play the covenant role of “the donkey” in the nativity scene, the low budget production required him to wear a stylish and hot, burlap donkey costume resulting in him sweating profusely. But, a part he was committed to playing all through my high school and college years. But for me, my favorite memory is not the presents or my numerous parts as the Christmas angel at church, nor the tracking of Santa Claus by the local weatherman on the news… it is the story of the flying turkeys on Santa Claus Day.
Santa Claus Day was the event I looked forward to each year in my younger days from 3-8 years old. It was when Santa came to our hometown and took all of our requests. For me, my requests typically included the newest barbie doll or everything in the JC Penny catalog. That catalog inspired me to dream of being an entrepreneur with my brilliant Light Bright art pieces and my skills of making potholders woven from elastic fabric on a plastic loom.
Although Santa looked and sounded like a local gentleman, I was willing to look past it. I had once or twice mistaken my mom at Kmart, so I understood how Les Schafer could be confused with the jolly old guy and probably got mistaken all the time. There were drawings for door prizes and my uncle, who was the Slope County George Strait, playing Christmas carols on his guitar. I will still argue that he sounded better than Mariah Carrey’s ear-bleeding Christmas carol, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But through all the events that day, one holds a special memory—the dropping of the turkeys.
One of my earliest memories was of the first occasion I participated in this momentous event. At the time, I was about four years old, and one of my best friends was a curly-haired, red-headed, freckled boy named Dewey. Dewey and I submitted our orders to the jolly old guy, we received our bag of treats including peanuts, a miniature snickers bar and 5-8 pieces of bad hard Christmas candy. After a little protein, we were ready to tear Sh*t up and were mentally preparing to catch a turkey.
The rules were simple if you caught the turkey, you could take it home and feed the family with your prized possession. I was looking forward to it because I knew I didn’t want to be force-fed Lutefisk on Christmas Eve, an event I would endure until my 20’s. With our snowsuits on, Dewey and I were ready for the big hunt. They would drop the turkeys from the second floor of the old bank at high noon. The only problem was they weren’t frozen turkeys but live ones. A regular person would recognize how dangerous this was, as turkeys have talons and don’t fly, but in our small North Dakota town our parents thought this sounded like a fun game for all the local children.
As the older kids eagerly got to the front of the pack, Dewey and I hung out towards the back, spectating. One by one, the lucky volunteer dropped the fowl. The Turkey would hit one of the 30 kids and then immediately run off. If the fall didn’t stun them, the cars trying to cross our one-paved main street would give them a second obstacle. It was American Gladiators, wildlife style. As kids would corner them in random garages, the most significant safety concern was the kids getting clawed and scratched while inevitably trying to get a hold of that turkey. Dewey and I could barely walk due to our mothers’ due diligence in ensuring we were warm. We looked like Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, in The Christmas Story. The snow pants restricted our movement, but swish after swish our little legs eventually joined the hunt.
We never did catch a turkey, but it was the thrill of the sport. I continued to eat Lutefisk until my cousin, who later became a lawyer, argued her first successful case in Grandma Hande vs. Lutefisk 20 years later. The turkey event eventually became discontinued due to the number of kids returning to the community center with battle wounds from the fight. Eventually, my the thrill of meeting Santa grew dim.
But that small town is still bright. It still has Santa Claus Day, where some kids, including Dewey’s girls, can discuss with Santa their wish list. My uncle won’t be there singing Christmas carols this year, and the garages that used to corner the turkeys are either torn down or need a paint job. However, there are many things I won’t forget; the time spent with family, the reason for the season, and most importantly the taste of Lutefisk. Merry Christmas!