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Holiday traditions and history in Fargo-Moorhead

Scandinavian and German culture is ingrained in many of Fargo’s traditions, especially during the holiday season. 


Norweigan heritage & holiday traditions

The Red River Valley is chock-full of Norwegians young and old. The Sons of Norway – Kringen Lodge #25 boost a hearty membership and the traditions and history of the holiday season still ring true to this day.

Holidays are a way to lift everyone’s spirits during the bleakest time of the year in North Dakota as well as the Scandinavian countries where most of our ancestors are from. Even with the change in weather starting in early November, Norwegians traditionally do not decorate until the week before Christmas and then when the day finally comes, it is spent with the family in celebration of the season.

These celebrations continue throughout the week between Chrismas and New Year’s called Romjul, these days are spent visiting family and friends and eating Christmas leftovers.

Norwegian Santa tradition: known as the Nisser, this small elderly man with a full beard and dressed in farmer clothing is known to bring nice presents to families who leave a bowl of porridge for him on Christmas Eve.

Norweigan & Swedish foods to try this holiday season

Like most, the holiday season is when many family traditions come to life and in typical Midwestern fashion; they almost always seem to be related to food.

Smorgasbord: in Sweden, a Christmas is celebrated with a Smorgasbord which is a huge buffet of Christmas ham, sausage, pickled herring, “salads” and then finished off with desserts such as toffee and frutkaka (fruitcake).

Lutefisk: A pickled white fish that dates back to the Viking Age where the fish is soaked in lye until it becomes a jelly-like consistency.

Lefse: This soft Norwegian flatbread is made with potatoes, flour, butter, and cream. Not only is it a tradition to eat this sweet treat, but families tend to cook it together as a group using special tools like long wooden turning sticks and special rolling pins with deep grooves.

After the pancake-like delicacy is made, most spread butter on top and then sprinkle cinnamon and sugar before rolling it up to eat.

German heritage & holiday traditions

One of the main traditions that came from German holiday traditions is the Advent Calendar. This is meant to be a countdown to Christmas for German children where they open little windows each day leading up to December 25 and enjoy a poem, candy, or a small gift.

Similar to this tradition, the Advent Wreath was started by German Lutherans where families build a wreath with four candles on a bed of pine cones, berries, and Christmas ornaments. Most bring this out the first week of December and each of the candles is lit every Sunday leading up to Christmas.

Christmas markets also started as a German tradition, the oldest one took place in 1434 in the town of Dresden, Germany and has since spread to over a thousand markets throughout the country. Made up of many little buildings all dressed up for the season, makers sell their dried meats, souvenirs, mulled wine, and other hand-made gifts.

This tradition has made its way to Fargo in November, Chritkindlmarkt takes place in Downtown Fargo as an homage to many of the community’s ancestors.

German foods to try this holiday season

Mulled Wine: this warmed wine with festive seasonings such as cinnamon and nutmeg can be found at any Christmas market as well as many German celebrations. It is traditionally served piping hot in ceramic mugs and is a delicious treat for those of age.

Chrismas Stollen: Another treat is this traditional German Christmas cake. It’s made with fruits, nuts, and spices wrapped into a traditional loaf cake and then sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Lebkuchen: Lastly, the Lebkuchen is a gingerbread type cookie made in various ways. Many are frosted and have nice messages scribbled on them.

Fargo’s first Christmas tree

In 1873, Fargo received its first Christmas tree after deciding as a community that they wanted to provide something for all of the kids in town to enjoy. The trees came in by train from Brainerd, Minnesota and after going missing for a bit of time, they were taken to No. 27 Front Street which today would be at the base of the Veterans Memorial Bridge on the Fargo side leading into Moorhead.

During the celebration, children were invited to help decorate the trees with real silver half dollars donated by a local Moorhead man. The children were all told that Santa was last seen in Pembina and heading to Fargo next, they were delighted when he finally showed up that evening. Later that night, The Wild Rice six-piece band performed music for the occasion and many danced throughout the night until the early morning!

Today’s prairie celebrations

Christmas on the Prairie

With winter being North Dakota’s longest season, we can assume that this time of year was extremely difficult for those who came to homestead the area. Bonanzaville, Fargo’s pioneer village, brings this time period to life where visitors can go back to a simpler time to enjoy the holidays.

One holiday event that keeps these traditions alive in Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo is Christmas on the Prairie at Bonanzaville. This all-day event offers carolers, sleigh rides, a silent auction full of locally made goods, desserts (where I’m sure you can find a delicious bar or two), pictures with Santa, hand-made crafts and lefse demonstrations.

It’s a great event for all ages. The kids will love it for the crafts, Santa and the popular cookie decorating station. The adults will enjoy the nostalgic feelings brought on by traditional dishes, carolers and the pioneer village that is now home to many old buildings from surrounding small-town communities.

There are so many other events in Fargo for Christmas and the holiday season, check out a full list here.


Happy Holidays from us to you!