Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Santa Claus is coming to town on a John Deere tractor November 29, 2010

I HAVE FOND CHILDHOOD memories of Ham Day in my hometown of Vesta, a farming community of some 350 on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. When I was growing up, Vesta boasted a one-block main street lined with businesses. Today you’ll find a bank on one corner, the municipal liquor store on another, a café a stone’s throw away, the post office and that’s about it in the heart of town.

Back then, the Commercial Club sponsored an annual December Ham Day at the community hall. This offered an opportunity for local businesses to thank customers by giving away hams in a drawing.


The Vesta Community Hall, site of the annual Ham Day in December.

It also gave farm families an opportunity to socialize and, well, win a ham. You can bet my dad made sure his six kids signed up at as many businesses as possible for the ham give-away. Every year we went home with a ham.

But that’s not all. We kids also got goodie bags parceled out by Santa Claus, played by my Uncle Clarence. After the drawing, we would tromp outside and form a line into the Legion Hall. There Santa handed each kid a brown paper bag packed with peanuts, an apple, an orange, a marshmallow Santa and, best of all, a chocolate Hershey bar. Could life get any sweeter? Not for this farm girl.

With Ham Day forever a part of my cherished Christmas memories, I wondered what holiday happenings out there might hold special memories for today’s generation.

Here are a few upcoming events that seem suitable for memory-making:


John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. Santa will likely arrive on a newer model John Deere at this week's SEMA Equipment holiday open houses.

SANTAS ARRIVE IN JOHN DEERE tractors at SEMA Equipment, Inc. holiday open houses this week. From 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, December 2, Santa will be at the ag implement dealership in Wanamingo. From 9 a.m. – noon on Saturday, December 4, Santa will simultaneously appear at SEMA in LeRoy, Plainview, Spring Valley, St. Charles and Austin. Don’t ask me how. But Santa is magical and I suppose he can be in five places at once.

I expect a lot of happy kids sharing cookies with the Jolly Old Man, riding in John Deere tractors, and bringing home Silly Bands and John Deere suckers. Even I would like a John Deere sucker. (I have fond memories of attending John Deere Day each year in Redwood Falls.)

IF YOU WANT TO ATTEND A TORCHLIGHT parade and dislike big city traffic and crowds (like me), take the kiddos over to Montgomery for the annual Torchlight Parade & Fireworks beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 2. Post parade you’ll be treated to a beautiful computer-choreographed fireworks display set to holiday music.


Book characters Tib, left, Tacy and Betsy, in a mural in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children's Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato. Marian Anderson painted scenes from the 10 Betsy-Tacy books.

CHILDREN (AND ADULTS) who are fans of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace can experience an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, at the Betsy-Tacy houses in Mankato. Costumed characters will represent Betsy Ray and her family. Carolers will entertain. Refreshments will be served in the across-the-street houses decorated for the holidays.


Betsy Ray's (Maud Hart Lovelace) house along Center Street in Mankato, photographed this past summer.

UP NORTH IN HUBBARD, eight miles south of Park Rapids, you’ll find another interesting holiday happening which is likely more suited for adults than kids. The Long Lake Theater’s production of Ole & Lena’s It’s a Wonderful Life opens Thursday, December 2, for a two-week, eight-day run. The last show is December 12. Billed as a parody of the beloved Christmas classic with a Minnesota twist, the performance features those well-known Minnesota Scandinavians, Ole and Lena.


Santa stops at the beautifully-restored Bachrach Building in downtown Faribault on Saturday.

SANTA WILL POSE for pictures and visit with kids in Faribault during a Hometown Holidays event from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, in the Bachrach Building, 318 N. Central Avenue.  (No mention of goodie bags.) Other activities include cookie decorating and ornament making.

Across the street at the Paradise Center for the Arts, holiday storytime begins at 3 p.m. The Faribault High School Band the local Girl Scouts will also provide musical entertainment.

Old Trondhjem Church, photographed in the summer.

A CONCERT OF CHRISTMAS favorites will surely get you in the holiday spirit at a Norwegian country church near Lonsdale. The historic church presents “Sounds of Christmas at Old Trondhjem: Janet White and Friends” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 12.

IF YOU KNOW of an interesting holiday activity in your Minnesota neighborhood, submit the information in a comment or an email. I’ll start a list and share the information in an upcoming post/posts.

Likewise, if you have wonderful memories of a childhood Christmas event like Ham Day in Vesta, I’d like to hear those stories too.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling