Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Christmas Creatures


Vernon Huseby grew up five miles southwest of Nome during the Great Depression. His parents, Ole and Nora, were born in Norway, and Vernon described his Ransom County neighbors as “predominantly Scandinavian, with a little American mixed in.”

Blod klub was one of the Huseby family’s Christmas goodies. It was a mixture of flour, oatmeal, sometimes some pearl barley and the main ingredient: blood collected at the time of butchering a beef or a hog. “The (blood sausage) was made into loaves, boiled and laid away,” Vernon wrote, “later to be taken in and diced, fried in grease or cream and eaten with syrup or honey.”

Nora told her ten children that Santa Claus was mythical like the Jule Nisse, an interesting little character. The Jule Nisse was a type of elf who helped families with certain things, but he had an ornery streak. If he got upset, he had to be calmed down with bowls of porridge or rice pudding, or he would make mischief, like tying the cows’ tails together, or dropping and breaking things. If children offered him rice pudding on Christmas Eve, he would leave gifts for them.

Some Germans from Russia had TWO Christmas Eve visitors – Belznickel and Kristkindl. In the book, Ethnic Heritage in North Dakota, Kas and Ida Greff wrote, “As early as two weeks before Christmas the Belznickl would gather his chains, rattling and roaring at the window just to be sure we wouldn’t forget he was coming. Now if anything can keep you from misbehaving, the Belznickl could. After all, he could drag you away on Christmas Eve.”

The Greffs wrote that the Belznickl would finally show his face on Christmas Eve after the evening dinner. “His rattling and growling would keep on for an hour or two,” they wrote. “When he let up for a few minutes, we would worry that he had skipped our home and gone somewhere else. He and the Kristkindl did, after all, leave gifts and treats and we certainly didn’t want to miss that. Usually preceding the actual entrance of the Kristkindl and Belznickl, we would furiously say prayer after prayer.

“Finally the Belznickl came in with the Kristkindl behind,” they continued. “He was a furry thing that crawled on all fours, rattled his chain, and grabbed anyone or anything that got in his way. (He wanted) to get the bad kids and drag them away. Often he had to be held back by Mom or an older brother or sister. We’d pile on the bed, many times 10 or more of us kids, jump and wrap up in Mom’s bedspread. He’d make a grab for us and we’d run.

“The Belznickl was really our father but we didn’t know that. We were so scared we didn’t even recognize the big bear-like robe that we used on the night. He’d tell us we’d better be good for the next year. Later Mother would remind us ‘the Belznickl will get you’ if we weren’t good.

“Our first reaction to the Kristkindl was always what a beautiful angel she was,” they continued. “She was a neighbor woman dressed as an angel and would ask if we’d been good. If we didn’t answer immediately that we had, she’d swat us with a little willow switch. She reminded us to say our prayers and this was usually followed by an Our Father and a Hail Mary. The Belznickl in this whole process would try to grab our legs in order to take us away. A great havoc was created with prayers being said amid screams of agony and peals of laughter. After the children received their gifts the awesome duo would leave and the evening settled down. Gifts were opened, songs were sung, and stomachs were filled with Christmas treats.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm