Christmas is finally here, after what has felt like the longest year of all time—2020. Holiday celebrations might look different this year, but there are still ways to find joy and merriment. 

To put us in the festive spirit, we asked our team to share some of their favorite holiday traditions and treats. Keep scrolling to hear what Peter, Sara, Marilyn and Brienne had to say.

Happy Holidays to our Zeal community!

What’s your favorite holiday tradition? And, if you’re not able to do it this year because of COVID, what’s something new you’re going to do to stay in the holiday spirit?

Brienne and daughter, Pearl, doing their holiday shopping downtown!

Peter Hauck, Community Manager: My family always goes to First Lutheran church for their Christmas Eve service. I’ve always loved the candlelight service and hearing the children’s choir sing “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” Afterward, we would go to my grandparents’ house for fruit soup, Swedish meatballs, ribs, rice pudding (if you find an almond in yours, it’s good luck for the whole year), and my grandma’s sugar cookies and krumkake.

I’m also going to miss my quiet Christmas morning with my wife, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law—drinking coffee with Bailey’s, opening presents, and listening to Christmas music. My grandma got me my own krumkake iron for Christmas last year, so my wife and I will definitely be making some krumkake to stay in the Christmas spirit this year!

Sara Lum, Program and Marketing Manager: On Christmas Eve when I was little, my family would put on our PJ’s, make hot chocolate, and drive through the Falls Park light display.

Marilyn Stroh, Administrative Specialist: Christmas Eve worship is my favorite tradition. We will still worship together as a church family this year, but online and without my Mom who lives in assisted living.

Brienne Maner, Executive Director: Our favorite holiday tradition is to support local—shopping, dining, and since its inception, my husband and I have been supporting our incredibly talented local music scene by attending the Holiday Jam concert at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Sioux Falls. This year we were overjoyed to learn the band would be live-streaming the event and so we were able to watch it in our living room next to our Christmas tree. It was really special, and always brings tears to my eyes.

Do you have a favorite holiday treat or meal?

Marilyn and her husband, Tim, celebrating Christmas in Denver

Peter: I mentioned krumkake in my first answer, but a lot of people probably don’t know what that is. Krumkake (“curved cake” in Norwegian) is a super-thin cookie that’s made on a special iron that sort of resembles a waffle iron. Right after it’s cooked, you roll it over a conical rolling pin to give it kind of an ice cream cone shape. They are super delicious and delicate—crumbling into a thousand pieces with each bite. They taste great, but they are so light it doesn’t feel like you’ve eaten anything when you’re done with one, which makes it easy to eat too many!

Sara: Reese’s anything: trees, bells, nutcracker, holiday lights.

Marilyn: Our traditional meal the past few years has been chili, oyster stew, and potato dumpling soup. And we do a $20 gift exchange, the kind where you can steal a gift. It’s a pretty good time with family.

Brienne: We graze on dips, appetizers, and holiday goodies on Christmas Eve, and enjoy homemade soup on Christmas Day (and graze on more goodies).

What’s the best present you ever received or your favorite holiday memory?

Peter and his wife, Alicen, celebrating Christmas with family in Minnesota

Peter: My grandparents have taken our whole family to Disney World twice as a Christmas present—once when I was five and again when I was a teenager and my cousins were young. Those experiences are probably the best presents I’ve ever received, not necessarily because of Disney World, but because those vacations with all of my family members are some of my most cherished childhood memories. Most presents are just “stuff,” but those were lifelong memories—which I value far more than any physical object.

Sara: A few years ago, my sister and I convinced our family to end gift giving and instead go on an annual trip together. We have since traveled together to Portland, Maine; South Padre, Texas; and the Grand Canyon. We have made some awesome memories together as a family.

Marilyn: My favorite memory was waking my brothers up early on Christmas morning to open presents. Mind you I was awake and ready at 5 a.m., but would wait until 6 a.m. and they still thought it still too early. LOL! My favorite present was a doll named Swingy by Mattel. She could walk and dance, which was pretty high-tech for the 1960s. Another memory is how beautiful the snow would blanket our farm and was so peaceful. The stars sparkled like diamonds. I miss that now as an adult. It was magical. I know that sounds cliché, but it truly was that way.

Brienne: Spending my first Christmas as a new mom with my 1-month-old daughter was a favorite, as has every holiday since.

Sara’s dog, Henry, all dressed up for Christmas!

Favorite holiday song?

Peter: Man, it’s tough to pick just one. I’m a total sucker for “Mary, Did You Know?” by Pentatonix. I also love every single song on Michael Bublé’s Christmas album. That might make me a little basic, but that guy has some serious pipes.   

Sara: Any holiday song sung by a 90’s diva.

Marilyn: Silent Night especially on Christmas Eve at church when we light candles and sing in the glow of the candles. My fun favorite is Santa Baby by Ertha Kitt. It is my ringtone when my husband calls.

Brienne: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas