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Christmas Traditions in Driftless Wisconsin

December 2, 2015 by Eric Frydenlund

My memories of Christmas begin with lutefisk and lefse, the Norwegian feast my mother made each year to celebrate my father’s Scandinavian heritage.  The smell of lutefisk – a cod cured in lye – wafting through the house on Christmas Eve sent me in the opposite direction in full retreat. While the rest of the family endured the smell of boiled fish with the consistency of pudding, my sister and I sat in the living room enjoying a holiday meal of hotdogs, which at least were chewable.

For those of you who enjoy lutefisk – and there are many of you – rest assured I have not entirely abandoned my Norwegian heritage.  I do love lefse, a potato flatbread rolled to a thin layer and cooked on a large griddle. Served only with butter – I consider the addition of brown sugar to be blasphemy – I have been known to consume lefse as fast as it comes off the griddle. After my wife made it clear that if I wanted the tradition to continue, I would be supplying the labor, I have learned to make a decent batch of lefse.  Never mind the dough stuck to the kitchen counter and the cloud of flour draping my shirt.

The history of our Christmas traditions is rooted in our ethnic customs. Explored by the French and settled by Scandinavians, Bohemians, Irish, and other nationalities; Driftless Wisconsin offers a variety of ethnic traditions to honor our diverse heritage.  In communities across the Driftless Wisconsin region, the Christmas season inspires us to carry forward our traditions to the next generation.

ofc_horsesOn December 5 – 6 the good folks at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center will help us celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas.  Norskedalen, which means Norwegian Valley, “is a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area surrounding Coon Valley in southwest Wisconsin.”

The Old-Fashioned Christmas offers visitors the opportunity to explore that heritage through the lens of the Christmas holiday, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas caroling, a buffet of Norwegian delicacies, and a bake sale – including lefse!  Craft demonstrations in spinning, wood-stove cookery, and kid’s crafts will keep you grounded in the spirit of Christmas. And you’ll have the chance to make your own holiday decorations.

Also on December 5, La Farge will hold its Old-Fashioned Small Town Christmas Celebration.  The community, located near the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, will take you back to your small-town childhood memories with a huge craft fair at the school, a cookie walk at the Reserve, and a soup luncheon.

On December 4 – 6 and 11 – 13, The Villa Louis Historic Site in Prairie du Chien will celebrate Victorian Home for the Holidays.  Held at the Villa Louis, the opulent estate of Hercules Dousman restored to its 1890s splendor, the event recreates the holiday traditions of a Victorian family.  Enter the Dousman parlor for a recital on a restored 1879 Steinway piano.  Visit the kitchen, where the Dousman cook prepares the holiday menu.  Sample some desserts and apple cider.

No holiday would be complete without witnessing the Droppin’ of the Carp in Prairie du Chien on December 31.  Culminating the week-long Carp Fest, the evening includes a bonfire, entertainment, and the countdown starting at 11:40.  Inspired by New York City’s dropping of the Time Square Ball at midnight, this celebration ends with the ‘Droppin’ of a carp taken from the Mississippi River and preserved for this special occasion.

Tradition has it that the Carp King and Queen kiss “Lucky” the fish for good luck in the New Year.  Well, at least they don’t have to eat it.

Carp Fest and the Droppin’ of the Carp!

December 20, 2014 by Corey A. Edwards

Prairie du Chien's Carp Fest and the Droppin' of the Carp 2015Hard as it may be to believe, 2014 is all but gone – which, here in the Driftless Region, can mean only one thing: Carp Fest and the Droppin’ of the Carp!

We all know about the big crystal ball that drops in New York’s Times Square but, in Wisconsin’s Prairie du Chien, it’s the Droppin’ of the Carp and Carp Fest that folks wait for to mark the end of their year.

A carp? They drop a carp?

Yep: starting at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve, a whole, frozen, gussied-up, 20 to 30 pound carp named “Lucky” is slowly lowered by crane onto its throne for Prairie du Chien’s Droppin’ of the Carp countdown.

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New Year’s Winter

December 26, 2011 by Driftless Wisconsin

In Driftless Wisconsin, the New Year ushers in more than college football bowl games, New Year’s resolutions, and a new calendar on the wall. It welcomes winter.  Winter arrived officially on December 22, yet with holiday shopping, giving, and celebrating, no one really took notice.  Awaiting colder weather, even the Mississippi River has not frozen completely, causing restless days for ice fishermen itching to get out on the ice. 

On a recent trip up the Great River Road, the warmer river fought with the cooling air, throwing a blanket of fog over its surface. Trees from hidden islands poked up through the mist like a forest in a mystical landscape.  January will not be so subtle.  Winter’s unofficial arrival lays the groundwork for some serious frosty fun.   But not before we welcome the New Year’s arrival. 

Few events will mark the year as uniquely as the Droppin’ of the Carp in Prairie du Chien.  To welcome midnight, the good people of Prairie du Chien have discovered that gravity works just as well on a 25-pound carp in Lucky Park as it does on the crystal ball in New York’s Time Square.  The Droppin’ of Lucky the Carp also marks the culmination of a week-long celebration of Carp Fest.  

In the days leading up to Lucky’s plunge, the community will host swim and walking contests, arts and crafts activities, and a torchlight ski and hike at La Riviere Park on December 30.  New Year’s Eve day features the Carp Run Walk, the annual Carp Bowl Football Game, hot air balloon rides, concluding with the Carp Drop and pyrotechnics show at midnight.  

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge welcomes the New Year season with Winter Fest on Saturday, January 7.  The all-day family event offers plenty of winter fun.  The scenic nature area located in the scenic Kickapoo River Valley serves as the perfect setting to host a celebration of winter. 

Activities include skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture, chain saw carving, birds of prey demos, and horse-drawn bobsled rides. The Tristate Alaskan Malamute Club will host a Sled Dog Race & Weight Pull between 10 am and 4 pm.  You can also tour the pristine Kickapoo Reserve on the Natural Ice Caves Guided Hike at 10:30 am. 

The New Year is upon us.  Grab the kids – and the grandkids too – and come celebrates winter’s offerings with us in Driftless Wisconsin. 

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