Holiday traditions are fascinating. Every family does things just a little differently, even within the same cultural or religious community, and as the needs of the family change, traditions change as well. The North Shore still reflects the influence of the fur trade, logging, and mining industries that shaped both our culture and landscape. As a result, we have many Indigenous, French, and Scandinavian influences on winter tradition.
For me, the most important thing during the winter holidays is to get together with the people I love, eat good food, and laugh. And we always use the good China; even when we’re locked down and the kids request ramen and pizza rolls. Maybe especially then.
Tradition is important, and it acts as a bridge between where we’ve been and where we are going. My kids eat Tin Roof Sundae ice cream because it was my grandpa’s favorite. They never met him. We make lefse the day after Thanksgiving because it became a tradition among my mother-in-law’s family 18 years ago. We also go to Glensheen every Christmas to count the elves and hope for shortbread cookies because we get free tickets and vote on our favorite tree. The beauty of tradition is that you can start and stop them however you see fit. So here are a few holiday traditions to try on and see how they fit.
I think it started with my dad’s cousins. My grandmother was a second mom to them after their mother died, so our families are close. One day, they took my grandmother to high tea at a tea house in Anoka, MN, and had so much fun that they decided to make it a family event. So, once or twice a year, all the women and girls available would gather and have our own “high tea.” There were 20 or so of us, all gathering in my grandma’s little house in cabin attire and donning fancy old-fashioned hats, at least long enough to take a photo. None of us much liked tea, but we cheerily sat around eating finger sandwiches, discussing which tea we disliked the least, and giggling over whoever it was who ended up with the “bird butt” hat.
Christmas Tea on the Edna G, Two Harbors
The Edna G is a tug that operated out of Agate Bay from 1896 until 1980, save for two years where she assisted in World War I efforts by hauling coal barges up and down the Atlantic coast. Initially commissioned to help ore boats in and out of Agate Bay, the Edna G was later retrofitted to operate as an ice breaker.
With its long and storied history, the Edna G is a 110-foot-long gem, which once was the “finest and most powerful tug in the area.” Friends of the Edna G help her legacy to live on, and one fun way to support the Edna G’s maintenance and preservation is through their annual Christmas Tea event. Christmas Tea on the Edna G occurs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with several tea times each day.
You’ll board the Edna G, dressed in her holiday finery, and enjoy a tea for up to four people on the rolling waves of Lake Superior. You will be greeted with a warm cabin and festive ambiance to enjoy tea, hot chocolate, sandwiches, and dessert in the mess. To find out more and reserve your seats, visit: friendsofednag.org.
I didn’t grow up with a fireplace, so there is one well-known holiday tradition that hasn’t ever made a lot of sense to me: the yule log. With the advent of 24-hour television and streaming services, it is now possible to have a virtual yule log on your television. Many years ago, my mom put this on the TV while we were gathered for the ambiance of a quiet, warm fire. Every now and then a hand would appear to add another log, eliciting cheers and speculation from across the room.
The origin of the yule log traces to Scandinavian and Germanic traditions of celebrating the winter solstice. This is not dissimilar to Ojibwe traditions of building a fire to gather around and tell winter stories. Some stories cannot be told when the animals and spirits might overhear them. These stories are gifts from the elders to the younger generations.
Dagwood’s Bakery and Deli, Thunder Bay
As fireplaces phased out and people were less able to participate in the burning of a yule log in their homes, they came to enjoy the European tradition of the yule log cake. Dense chocolate cake is baked into a thin layer and then rolled up with frosting inside to create a log. The cake is then often decorated with chocolate frosting on the outside to look like bark, perhaps even with a dusting of powdered sugar to resemble the freshly fallen snow. And Dagwood’s Bakery and Deli offers these yule logs each winter season.
Dagwood’s maintains an unassuming storefront between a small engine shop and residential homes, just a stone’s throw away from the Kaministiquia River. And while the building is nothing to gawk at, what you will find inside surely is.
The bakers at Dagwood’s are truly artists who create beautiful and delicious baked goods. They have pumpkin persians decorated as gingerbread men, cupcakes piled high with perfectly swirled or flowered frosting, and creatively designed custom cakes I cannot begin to describe. A Pusheen cat cake with donuts. A VHS player with personalized cassette tape. The most perfect unicorn cakes I have ever seen.
Dagwood’s also offers a variety of platters to cater your get-together, or to simply supplement. The fancy pastry platter includes little eclairs and crème puffs, and the square pastry platter has an assortment of your favorite bars and cakes. If you need help with sandwiches, Dagwood’s can do that too with their meat and cheese platter, or their platter of finger sandwiches.
This year, Dagwood’s is hosting Christmas with Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve, where customers can stop by and take photos with Mrs. Claus and purchase or pick up any holiday treats.
One year we tried taking a page from someone else’s family tradition and went out to dinner on Christmas Eve “so no one had to do the dishes.” It was a mess. The restaurant was a national chain and they were out of everything. I mean everything. Even after everyone’s substitutions were made and the waitress took our order to the kitchen, she soon returned to let us know they were out of one more thing. Thankfully, not everyone’s holiday dining experiences reflect ours, and a select few places are open on Christmas in case you, too, don’t want to do the dishes.
Silos Restaurant, Duluth
One of the area’s greatest Christmas attractions is Bentleyville. If you have never been, it is a walk-through light display of gigantic proportions that is held annually in Bayfront Park from mid-November until the day after Christmas. Conveniently, next door to Bentleyville you’ll find Pier B Resort, with Silos Restaurant inside. For resort patrons, Pier B offers the Bentleyville Express Wagon to transport visitors to and from Bentleyville.
The Silos Restaurant dining room features large windows with a beautiful lakeside view. The menu offers a variety of foods from sandwiches and burgers to steak, seafood, and pasta. Chefs cook steaks to perfection over a wood fire, lending unmatched flavor. Silos has many allergen friendly dishes, and just happens to be open Christmas Day. In addition, Silos throws an annual New Year’s Eve party complete with hors d’oeuvres and a midnight toast of champagne.
Whatever your holiday traditions, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.