The scramble to prepare for the big winter holiday season started weeks ago. There have been moments of joy while visiting with relatives and loved ones, or finding that perfect gift for your kiddo. Then there’s moments of stress when realizing the strings of Christmas lights you’ve spent hours draping over your roof won’t turn on (think Christmas Vacation with the Griswolds).
Mesa County is rich with traditions and cultural celebrations that go way back to the beginning of the 1900’s. Nowadays, the typical imagery associated with Christmas involves a brightly lit, plump tree with mounds of presents spilling out from beneath. In a Mesa County Oral History Project interview, Emma Nagel describes her early 1900’s holiday experience while her family homesteaded in the Highpoint community north of Fruita:
“(The tree) was decorated…and the little paper chains we had made and popcorn strings and apples and that was about all…We didn’t have half a dozen presents each either, if we got one present each we were perfectly happy, that and candy and nuts and we had a good Christmas…But we didn’t have a lot of presents. It was always fun going to the church, of course, the Sunday school teacher always gave us something, a card or a little picture. I remember in 1902 Anna and I each got a new pencil. I still have it. That was really a big Christmas.”
Imagine your six year old getting excited over a single pencil and treasuring it for decades to come.
Alice Elizabeth Olsen, another Mesa County Oral History Project interviewee, recalls her husband making his annual sweet Norwegian Christmas bread (Julekage), a recipe passed down by Norwegian ancestors, which she continued to make throughout the remainder of her life. The bread is made with raisins, citron (a large fragrant fruit with a thick rind which became temporarily unavailable during World War II), and cardamom seeds.
Time warping to 1993, Grand Junction celebrated Christmas one special December by bringing in a joyously uncommon holiday creature – a camel. Here is an old Daily Sentinel photo from the Mesa County Libraries’ microfilms of an adorable child enjoying a Christmas camel ride. The camel, Missy, was supplied by the former Bookcliff Exotic Animal Park in Fruita.