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Bethlehem Lutheran Church celebrates global Christmas

Bethlehem Lutheran Church's annual Ethnic Christmas Dinner features Christmas traditions and dishes from around the world.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church's annual Ethnic Christmas Dinner features Christmas traditions and dishes from around the world.

For almost as long as Alicia Holly can remember, “Pikku Joulu” has been a part of her Christmas tradition.

“Pikku Joulu,” which means little Christmas in Finnish, has been a staple at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in DeKalb since the 1970s. The annual celebration honored the traditions from the home country of many of the church’s original members, but it also sparked an interest that has led to a more global take on Christmas.

“It’s the kickoff to our Advent season,” said Holly, a lifelong member. “It’s just a real nice way for the church to get together and celebrate the different heritages the church has and many different traditions around the world.”

The annual event now features Christmas traditions and dishes from around the world and will take place Saturday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the church on 1915 N. First St. This year, the celebration will begin with the traditional English wassail carol in the church lounge at 5:30 p.m.

Guests will then select their dinner from an international platter of dishes that has previously included cuisines from India, Guatemala and Sweden, said organizer Valerie Talsma. But for the less adventurous, she said there is a table of American dishes available.

While the food is always a highlight, Talsma said the desserts are the biggest hit and feature Finnish rice pudding.

“It’s an incredible meal because people are always finding new dishes to bring from their heritages,” Talsma said. “The dessert table is completely awesome.”

After the meal, the program will begin this year with a recognition of Hanukkah, which begins Saturday, with the lighting of a menorah. The celebration will then include Christmas carols and short presentations on traditions from Finland, Denmark, Ireland and other countries.

The evening will close with a reenactment of the legend of St. Lucia, complete with treats and the lighted crown.

“It’s not just the ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ or Charlie Brown versions of Christmas,” Talsma said. “It really makes you aware of other people’s traditions and it’s a celebration of those cultures.”

The event also has taken on an educational purpose as children in the congregation have been charged with preparing the presentations on their culture. Holly said her son spoke about his Polish heritage from his father’s side last year and will present his Finnish heritage from her side this year.

“We try to incorporate the families and children as much as possible,” Holly said.

Talsma said everyone is invited to the event, which usually attracts about 80 people and always a few non-members. She encouraged those not part of the church to come and share their heritage and traditions during an open mic session that will also be included in the event.


If you go

What: Ethnic Christmas Dinner

Where: Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1915 N. First St., DeKalb

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday

Why: Residents will get a taste of Christmas from around the world as church members present dishes and traditions from their heritages.

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