Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The magic of believing in Santa December 23, 2022

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This shows part of my small collection of Santas (and one St. Nicholas) and Santa cards displayed on a shelf in my dining room. The Santas on the left and right are candles received from my Aunt Ardyce at a family gift exchange in the 1960s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2022)

MY OLDEST DAUGHTER TEXTED on Wednesday asking for a cookie recipe. The kids, she said, would want to leave a treat for Santa.

Oh, to be young again and believe in an overweight bearded man in a red suit bearing gifts on Christmas. Just to clarify, the 6 ½-year-old granddaughter is questioning Santa’s validity. But Izzy hasn’t vocalized her suspicions to her younger brother, Isaac. I expect she wants to share her doubts, yet is hesitating lest she’s wrong. Who wants to risk Santa not leaving gifts?

There’s something to be said for believing in Santa, no matter your age. Or maybe, more accurately, there’s something to be said for the magic that accompanies believing. So I suppose, in reality, I believe in Santa still.

I believe in the joy he brings. The smiles. The goodness. The laughter. The reminder that, even in difficult times, Santa navigates around life’s obstacles through a dark sky, Rudolph’s nose lighting the way. That’s such a strong visual, one we’ve seen illustrated many times in children’s picture books.

This time of year, so many individuals, organizations, churches and more bring joy. They are, like Santa, the bearers of gifts. Toys, food, clothing, gift cards… They become the magic. But it isn’t all about the tangible “things,” although those are decidedly needed and appreciated. It’s also about what giving means to the recipient. It means someone understands, someone cares, someone sees.

Santa is not fictional. He’s real, in a magical sort of way that is timeless and believable, even to the grandma of a suspicious first grader.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on Santa?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“Dear Santa” letters from Minnesota first graders December 29, 2021

Santa, done delivering gifts at a family Christmas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, a small town Minnesota weekly newspaper published 32 letters—31 addressed to Santa and one to Elsa. The letters written by Sibley East first graders, as you would expect, are honest. Or at least honest enough to convince Santa of good behavior.

As I read through the letters to Santa published in The Gaylord Hub (where I worked as a reporter from 1978-1980), I laughed. And I nearly cried. Read on and you’ll understand as I share highlights pulled from the kids’ writings.

Many first graders assured Santa of their helpfulness and kindness among family and friends. But young Oskar hesitated. “I have been kind of good this year,” he penned before asking for Legos and books with one Lego figurine.


What kids wanted for Christmas varied widely. Aleah asked for markers, glue, coloring books, crayons and Skye from Paw Patrol. Her request for glue and for crayons caused me to pause, considering she needed/wanted something so basic. I hope sweet Aleah got those gifts. Other kids asked for items like shoes, clothes, a bunk bed, a garbage can for their bedroom. Necessities.

But perhaps the most touching was Elsa’s request: “Please can you give me a picture of me for my family.”


On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alex requested items that could bankrupt Santa. He not only wanted a remote control car, a gun, a kids’ motorcycle and an iPhone 11, but he also asked for $1 million. Alright then. Alex wants a sister, too. Not sure how Santa handled that.


Perhaps the most unusual gift desired came from Angie, who assured Santa she’s been working hard in school and helping her mom with dishes. The first grader asked for a skeleton so she can study the human body. Impressed? I am. I expect Angie will accomplish anything she sets her mind to, maybe even becoming a medical professional.

Other gift lists included Nintendo games, a skateboard, not just some but “a lot of” Nerf guns, a remote control semi, a LOL doll, Pokemon cards…and the usual horse and puppy. And for one boy, dogs. Plural, not singular. He promised to share the dogs with his friends.


These kids also had lots of questions for Santa. About the reindeer (What do they eat? How do they fly?). About the elves (How are they?). About Mrs. Claus (How old is she?). About the North Pole (How cold and snowy is it there?).

Santa also faced questions about himself. “Do you like cookies or not?” Cameron asked, getting right to the point. Oskar was more specific. “Do you like cookies that are bought or decorated cookies?”

Angie, who wanted the skeleton to study the human body (I sure hope she got it) wondered why Santa wears a red hat instead of a blue hat. Good question. Like I said, I expect this inquisitive first grader will achieve whatever goals she sets.


Then two first grade boys got even more personal. “Do you have any kids?” Charlie asked Santa. Good question.

And then there’s Jaxson, concerned about Santa’s mental health. “Are you happy? Yes?” I love how this little boy’s letter opened with that question before he went on to ask for one thing, a Nintendo Switch. He even thanked Santa. We could all learn from Jaxson. About compassion and care for others. From the pencils of first graders…


© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Source: December 23, 2021 edition of The Gaylord Hub


The generational magic of the holidays, as seen through my camera lens January 3, 2017

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

MY HOLIDAYS HELD magical photographic moments, mostly because of my granddaughter, just days shy of turning nine months old.

Isabelle is so accustomed to Grandma and her DSLR Canon that she crawls toward me whenever I have my camera in hand. So I try to be quick and sneaky, not always possible with an active baby.




But I managed, at a family holiday gathering this past weekend in southwestern Minnesota, to photograph some special moments. I’m always seeking to document emotions, interactions and everyday life. Posed portraits also hold value.




I aimed my lens toward my mom, in her eighties, and her connection to her great granddaughter. I love watching the interaction between the two generations and observing my own daughter as a loving and caring mom.




Often I found myself crawling and chasing after Izzy, sometimes placing my camera on the floor to get her perspective. That resulted in my favorite shot of the weekend—Isabelle crawling while her daddy and grandpa watched from the next room.




Grandpa also thought he should teach his grandbaby to maneuver the stairs. She’s a little too young for that. But that didn’t stop Izzy from pausing at the base of the stairway to imagine the possibilities. Stairs appear particularly daunting from a baby’s perspective.


Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

As always, Santa showed up at the extended family holiday gathering to parcel out candy, humor and questions about naughty and nice. All ages landed on his lap, earning a moment of Santa’s full attention.




There’s something magical about that—when, for a brief span of time, we all believe in Santa Claus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


See, Hank, Santa is a pretty nice guy December 23, 2014

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YES, THERE WERE TEARS and clinging to Mom and Dad.

But eventually 2 1/2-year-old Hank came around.

He cautiously inched his way down the basement steps, where Santa waited at the bottom.

My great nephew, Hank, age 2 1/2, picks candy from Santa's bag at the Kletscher family Christmas.

My great nephew, Hank, age 2 1/2, picks candy from Santa’s bag at the Kletscher family Christmas gathering.

Santa’s bag of candy proved too much to resist.

Last year Hank wouldn't have anything to do with Santa, who had to turn his back so Hank could

Last year Hank was afraid of Santa. So Santa, being the nice guy that he is, stepped aside and turned his back. Then Hank, sheltered in his mom’s arms, and with the help of Grandpa, got his candy.

What a difference a year makes.

Hank, the first baby in the family in 11 years, was the center of much attention.

In 2012, when he was six months old, Hank was all smiles sitting on Santa’s lap.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Here comes Santa Claus & his horses December 16, 2014

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IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK  a lot like Christmas…

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

with a one-horse two-horse open sleigh wagon winding around and through historic downtown Faribault.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When Santa pouts December 24, 2013

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WHEN SANTA SHOWED UP for my extended family Christmas celebration this past weekend in rural Lamberton, my 18-month-old great nephew wanted nothing to do with the Jolly Old Man.

Terrified at the sight of Santa, Hank screamed and cried and clung to his mom while the rest of us were highly entertained by his reaction.

Despite his fear, Hank still wanted candy from Santa’s bag.

Santa turns his back

So Santa, being Santa, handed the bag over to Hank’s grandpa and turned his back while Hank and his mama peered inside for a treat.

I captured the moment. And, if I didn’t know Santa’s reputation for being a happy, cheerful man, I’d say he appears a bit miffed, standing with his arms clamped across his chest and no apparent twinkle in his eyes.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Believing in the magic of Santa and of community theatre December 11, 2013

ALTHOUGH I’VE TRAVELED TO NEW YORK, albeit only once and in the late 1970s, I’ve never been to Macy’s.

I’ve watched the Macy’s Day parade, though, on television and this year heard a brief first person account from my 19-year-old son. He attends college in the Boston area and spent his Thanksgiving break in the Big Apple.

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

Saturday evening, thanks to the Paradise Community Theatre’s production of Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical, I visited the aforementioned New York department store and watched (imaginatively speaking) a portion of the parade.

Plus I was swept into the holiday spirit by songs such as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and by the acting of 31 gifted performers. The cast includes a lot of dedicated young actors and actresses who bring abundant energy and talent to the stage.

With the exception of a cold theater (due to furnace problems), a not-so-good seat (I waited too long to reserve my ticket), and occasional difficulty hearing the singers above the orchestra, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Malia Hunt as Susan Walker and Jerry Fox as Kris Kringle. Photo by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Malia Hunt as Susan Walker and Jerry Fox as Kris Kringle. Photo by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This classic Christmas story, which was unfamiliar to me (I know, I know), thrusts you right into the magic of the holiday season. Do you believe in Santa Claus? Do you believe in love? You will after viewing this splendid performance of Miracle on 34th Street in which Kris Kringle claims that he truly is Santa Claus. Northfield resident Jerry Fox portrays as convincing of a Santa Claus as you’ll ever see, both in appearance and demeanor.

And adorable 10-year-old Malia Hunt of Faribault exudes absolute confidence in her main character role as Susan Walker, the little girl who wants a father for Christmas, along with a farmhouse, a swing in the backyard and a cow.

The sets are constantly changing in the performance. This set shows the Macy's Department Store desk of Doris Walker (Sydney Place-Sallstrom), left, and Doris and Susan Walker's apartment, center stage.

The sets are constantly changing in the performance. This set shows the Macy’s Department Store desk of Doris Walker (Sydney Place-Sallstrom), left, and Doris and Susan Walker’s apartment, center stage.

My favorite line in the entire show comes from Jackson Hemann of Medford, who plays Thomas Mara, Jr., the young son of a New York district attorney determined to prove Kris Kringle is not Santa.

When Kringle’s attorney, Fred Gaily (Mickey Morstad), asks Thomas why he believes in Santa, the young boy replies: “My mommy told me so.”

Ah, to possess such child-like faith.

“Faith,” Kris Kringle declares during the performance, “is believing in something when your common sense tells you not to.”

An artistic interpretation of Miracle on 34th Street graces a front window at the Paradise Center for the Arts, which reflects some of downtown Faribault's historic buildings.

An artistic interpretation of Miracle on 34th Street graces a front window at the Paradise Center for the Arts with some of downtown Faribault’s historic buildings reflected on the glass.

When the show ended at 10 p.m., children clustered around Fox. Don’t try telling them he isn’t really Santa Claus.

They believe in the magic of Santa Claus, just like I believe in the magic of theatre to transport me from Central Avenue in Faribault, Minnesota, to 34th Street in New York City.

FYI: Additional performances of Miracle on 34th Street are set for 7:30 p.m. this Thursday – Saturday, December 12 – 14, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 15, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. Click here for more information. As of early Tuesday afternoon, only limited seating remained for the Friday and Saturday shows with the Sunday afternoon performance nearly sold out.

My husband and I attended Miracle on 34th Street compliments of an event hosted by South Rice County Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. This did not influence my decision to review the performance nor the content of my review.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo of Jerry Fox and Malia Hunt by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.


Time for Santa to return to the North Pole March 22, 2011

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Apparently, the elf (or Santa) to the left of the door has turned his back on winter. I love this vintage style door, the inviting front porch, the look of this house. But, time to put away the Christmas decor and decorate for spring.

HERE IT IS, three months after Christmas and already three days into spring and many houses in my southeastern Minnesota community are still decorated for Christmas.

Drive through nearly any neighborhood and you’ll spot holiday lights sagging from roof lines, once-green evergreen wreaths and garlands aging to dried, brown perfection, and reindeer prancing on rooftops.


A wreath well past its prime decorates the front of a Faribault house along with a string of holiday lights.

I even saw a Christmas tree tossed onto a front porch. Ours is buried somewhere under a melting snow bank.

Santa and Mrs. Claus, perhaps finding our Minnesota winter remarkably like that at the North Pole, have been vacationing here since early December.


Time for Santa and Mrs. Claus to pack it up and leave Faribault.

Surprisingly Mary and Joseph have not retreated to the Holy Land either as I saw them in a front yard only blocks from my home.

So what gives here? I mean, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to you that Christmas decorations are still up in late March? It’s spring, for gosh sakes.


The wreath has fallen from the door onto the steps, but the holiday garland and ribbons remain in place.

But this year I expect the lengthy display of Christmas holiday cheer has more to do with the weather than laziness on the part of Faribault residents. Because of the heavy snowfall we’ve had this season, residents couldn’t get to their Santas and Holy families and reindeer herds that were buried in deep, deep snow.

Who wants to trudge through thigh-high snow in sub-zero temps to rescue Santa after blowing or shoveling out the driveway, sidewalk and car more times than you can remember? It’s easier just to leave all of the holiday decorations until the snow melts and temperatures reach a comfortable level.

Well, Faribault residents, with the snow disappearing and temperatures rising into the 40s, now would be the time to muck your way across the lawn, pluck Santa from the ground and stow him away until November.

For those of you tempted to leave your Christmas lights on your house year-round, I have one word for you. Don’t.


And just when I thought I had seen everything, I came across this Faribault home, where Christmas lights still ring a tree trunk, flowers "bloom" in a window box and snow covers the ground. Oh, and if you look closely, you'll see Christmas bulbs strung inside, along the windows.

Now, time to fess up. On Saturday, the day before spring started, I removed this holiday decoration from my back door.

© Copyright 2011 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