When I attend the annual Christmas program at a country church next Sunday it's a given that my thoughts will go back to more than 60 years ago when I was a part of the children's Christmas program there for three years. And there's a good chance I'll think of all that went on at Christmastime during the 1950s, as well as the days before Christmas Eve and the program that night.

It's also a given that I will wish I could have just one more Christmas Eve like the ones of the 1950s when our family of nine was together.

Our family, like many in those years, didn't have any extra money lying around. But we had each other and we always had a family Christmas, unlike this year when the pandemic will  probably keep families apart that have normally spent the holidays together.

God may be the only one who knows how our parents found any money to buy presents for me and my six sisters. But they always did. Even though we resided in a Lutheran parsonage, we weren't above searching out the few places where those presents might be hidden.  But our parents knew that and used a little imagination. For example, I found out one year by accident that the chicken coop was one of those hiding places, as was a pile of snow.

During all the excitement leading up to Christmas, however, we had to learn songs and "pieces" for the program at church, as well as taking our turns caroling to shut-ins in the countryside and some in the faraway (14 miles) town of Princeton. A couple cars would go bouncing over those frozen country gravel roads and soon we'd be at someone's house. We'd have to say "no" to the cookies and milk because we had to move on to another house. One year we went from house to house riding on a sleigh pulled by a team of horses.

I close my eyes today and easily remember the excitement of the day of Christmas Eve. Besides the last-minute running around and wrapping of gifts, sometimes in a room with a closed door (it was hard to keep secrets in a family of nine), there were preparations for that night.

There was the service at church and my sisters had to get dressed up in dresses, no less, for that service and they had to get their hair fixed.That was quite an undertaking in a house with only one bathroom.

When it came time for the service we were momentarily chagrined if we stumbled over a piece we had to recite in front of a packed house. We were convinced that the pastor's kids were always assigned the longest recitations. But it wasn't so bad if you forgot a word or two during a song because there were others who would cover for you.

When the service was over we knew we would get that brown sack of candy, nuts and fruit. It was a reason to get through the service after being up front in church with my hair combed and a tie laboriously tied after instructions from my father, as far back as age 10.

But, as my thoughts drift back to those nights of more than 60 years ago, what I will think of the most are the programs we had for our parents at home on Christmas Eve after the church service.

We rehearsed in the days preceding, both in words and music. The trumpet playing fell to me, the wayward son, while my sisters, all younger than me, played the piano. We would all sing, down to the littlest sister who was only a couple years old, and we all had words to memorize.

Our parents would sit on the sofa and we would turn off the lights and do our program for them by candlelight. The memory today of six sisters lined up, in the best dress each one had, is a vivid one, that memory supported today by a yellowing picture, taken with a tiny Brownie camera, that shows all seven of us raising our voices in song for our parents.

We were no doubt amateurish, and we might have stumbled over a few words, but, being the oldest, I knew by the looks on their faces, and perhaps by watery eyes of our mother, that they were proud of what we had dreamed up for them.

The melody and words of "Silent Night," which the seven of us siblings from Minnesota, California, Arizona, Indiana and Wisconsin are doing together virtually this year for our family Facebook page, ended our program back there in the '50s and then there was a short silence before the candles were doused and lights turned back on.

We couldn't wait to get to opening our presents, presents that impressed us even though it was only one present per kid, often from a page of the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. And  then later a cranberry dessert with a sauce so rich that it would probably be banned in 2020 by the fitness police.

Our parents are no longer here so I can admit, back in those supposedly all-knowing ways of a teenager, not wanting to do those programs. But how I wish now that we could do one more, even at our advanced ages, and see the looks on their faces. I think there's a lesson there.

I remember well the words of Union-Eagle publisher Elmer Andersen three decades ago as he suggested that Christmas was more than a time of religious significance. "On the whole," he wrote,"it is a wonderful time for people everywhere, of whatever faith, or none at all. Christmas brings families and friends together in expressions of remembrance, love and appreciation."

Christmas can be whatever you want it to be. I see it as a time for love and understanding. Here's hoping that's what each one of you can find this Christmas season as you make your own memories, memories that really do last a lifetime.


Gophers (football), Vikings, Gophers (basketball), Gophers (men's hockey)

The University of Minnesota football team, missing all kinds of starters on both offense and defense, rallied for a 24-17 win at Nebraska last Saturday to get to a season record of 3-3 after two canceled games because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The coach is a little goofy at times but give him credit for keeping the team together in the face of those absences, losing the team's star receiver for the second time this season, and winning despite being nearly a 10-point underdog. The team made just enough plays, both on offense and defense, to win. Mohammed Ibrahim, named this week as the Big Ten's top running back, scored two touchdowns and ran for 108 yards. Ibrahim has run for 946 yards despite some  injuries, averaged 5.3 yards a carry and scored 15 touchdowns in only six games. If this was a regular season of 12 games, can you imagine what his stats would look like?

The game against Wisconsin on Saturday, originally set for Nov. 28, may be a little anti-climatic but it's one more game for the team in a crazy, crazy season.

The Vikings should have been ahead at least 10-0 in the second quarter at Tampa Bay on Sunday but found themselves trailing 17-6 at halftime and then 23-6 in the third quarter before a 26-14 loss that severely hurt their chances to make the playoffs. Minnesota had the ball for 39 minutes, compared to 21 for the Buccaneers, and won the yardage battle. Placekicker Dan Bailey had a horrible day and quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked six times and hit 12 times as the offensive line also struggled mightily.  

The two guys on a post-game radio show wondered why Adam Thielen (3 catches) and Justin Jefferson (4) didn't get the ball more, apparently not recognizing that both of them were often double covered, while the tight ends (9 catches) and running backs (8 catches) were not the focus for the Bucs..It was obvious Tampa Bay wasn't  going to let Thielen and Jefferson beat them.

Tampa Bay has a winning record (8-5) and the Vikings are now 1-4 against teams with a winning record this season, the lone win coming over Green Bay. Chicago (6-7, same as the Vikings) New Orleans (10-3) and Detroit (5-8) remain on the schedule. Three wins would get them in the playoffs, a 2-1 record likely wouldn't.

The U of M men's basketball team simply wasn't going to win at Illinois despite its 6-0 start against marginal opposition, Illinois being the favorite to win the Big Ten. But shooting 28% from the field and being out rebounded badly, with a lack of of effort at times, was hard to watch. The team led 18-10 early and then started hurrying ill-advised shots, especially taking threes less than 10 seconds into  a possession on their next six or seven possessions.. Illinois then went on a 62-25 run, the Gophers failing at times to contest drives to the basket.

Many experts think the Big Ten is the best conference in the nation in men's basketball. The Gophers are going to have to work hard to win even a third of their Big Ten games if the effort isn't better.

Meanwhile, the men's hockey team at the U is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. I don't know if the No. 1 ranking is legit, simply because it's so early. But I've watched every game and they've never trailed. They're still a relatively young team but have great defensemen and a number of forwards who can score, besides having a goalie that has averaged giving up only one goal game. Maybe it's a sign of getting back to being one of the top teams in the country.


PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES

Dec. 30, 1965 —  In a year-end review, columnist Pete Finelli, a PHS teacher and former football coach at PHS, noted that PHS grad Dick Southard, playing for Rogers, was the MVP in the state amateur baseball tournament, and that Donna Kettelhodt had bowled a 277.

Dec. 30  1970 —Kurt Homstad won the 112-pound title in the eight-team West. St. Paul Invitational . . . Princeton placed eighth among 15 teams in the St. Cloud State Gymnastics Invitational. Princeton's best showing was on the horizontal bar where Pat Burke placed seventh.

Dec. 31, 1975 — Princeton (5-3) lost 53-42 to Spring Lake Park in the Spring Lake Park holiday tournament. Scott Erickson scored 17 points and totaled 34 in the two games of the tournament.

Dec. 25, 1980 — Princeton got its first hockey win of the season, 7-6 over Crosby-Ironton at the Elk River rink as defenseman Greg Sather scored twice . . . The girls basketball team (2-4) rallied to upset Chisago Lakes 46-37 as Barb Blomberg led with 17 points.

Dec. 26, 1985 —Princeton beat Milaca 48-42 in double overtime as Barb Blomberg scored 14 and Laura Bekius 12 . . .Chris Williams was in on three first places as Princeton beat Cambridge in swimming for the first time in 12 years, 91-75.

Dec. 27, 1990 — Princeton beat Pine City 59-33 as Corrine Lundell scored 13 points and Tanya Dorr 12  . . . PHS grads Bob Hurt and Curt Wilson were playing on the University of Minnesota-Crookston hockey team. 

Dec. 28, 1995 — A 16-1 run by Princeton in the last five minutes gave the Tigers a 66-61 win over Sauk Rapids. Jesse James scored 21 points and Shawn Stene 14 . . . Jesse Zimmer scored five goals in a 17-1 win over North Branch.

Dec. 28, 2000 — The girls basketball team beat Pine City 55-34 as Kayla Walker (18 points, 15 rebounds) and Jenny Cartwright (12 points, 10 rebounds) each had a double-double . . . The boys basketball team beat Pine City 62-58 as David Myers had 21 points and Dane Larsen 11.

Dec. 22, 2005 — All-conference in football were Josh Ludwig, Lance Shelby, Joe Patten and Blake Perkins . . . The boys hockey team beat Duluth Central 3-0 with goalie D.J. Erickson getting the shutout and Danny King scored two goals . . . The boys basketball team lost 60-57 at Rogers in the school's first game as a member of the Mississippi 8. Scott Roehl had 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Dec. 23, 2010 — .Goalie Ryan Carlson had 41 saves in a 3-0 boys hockey win over Mora-Hinckley-Finlayson . . . The boys basketball team lost 82-71 at Duluth Central as Joss Jondahl led with 23 points, Dominic Fraboni had 18, John Jedneak 12 and Jake Wood 10.

Dec. 17, 2015 —Individual champions for the PHS wrestling team at the Andover Invitational were Nate Hellman. Brent Chambers and Colton Hellman. The team was fourth among 13 teams . . . The boys hockey team (3-0 in the M8) beat Monticello 4-1 and Chisago Lakes 3-1 to start the season with a 7-0 record. Derek Abrahamson had two goals in the Monticello game and goalie Gabe Pangerl had 55 saves in the two games.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the area for the past 53 years.)

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