Glistening trees and paper stars: Fargo woman shares her Christmas traditions

Each year, Anna Marie Johnson meticulously strings strand after strand of antique lead tinsel on her eight-foot-tall Christmas tree in her home in north Fargo. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum

FARGO — Plates of goodies and the smell of freshly brewed coffee greets guests as they walk through the kitchen and into the dining and living area of this little yellow house in north Fargo.

A poinsettia sits atop a festive scarlet-and-fuchsia cloth while a small, handmade Julebukk keeps watch over the meal. Behind the table, candelabras light up each of the three windows, as Sankta Lucia girls adorn the walls.


Julebukks tuck in behind the large Christmas tree at Anna Marie Johnson's Fargo home. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum

In keeping with her quarter-Swedish heritage, Anna Marie Johnson proudly displays Sankta Lucia dolls around her north Fargo home. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum

Turning around, more Julebukks sit near a large evergreen, which drips with silver sparkles, gold balls and glistening white lights. A handmade village on top of the fireplace mantel brings winter in the old country to life right here in North Dakota.

The home is an amalgamation of Swedish and Norwegian culture — taking perfectly after its owner, Anna Marie Johnson, an 82-year-old going on 62 who is three-quarters Norwegian, one-quarter Swedish and a sharp-as-a-whip gal, whose heritage and traditions are proudly displayed throughout the house this time of year.

A small Julebukk sits on the kitchen table at Anna Marie Johnson's north Fargo home. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum


'O Christmas Tree'

Each year, as the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, box after box gets pulled out of storage in preparation for the new season.

“I kind of know what’s in (the boxes) now,” Johnson says. “The kids come and put up the tree for me. The other one I could handle, but this one comes in three pieces.”

The 8-foot-tall Christmas tree comes out for the season, ready to be decorated. A nd decorated it is.

In addition to many ornaments, strands of lead tinsel hang from each branch, making the tree drip with sparkle and shine when the twinkling white lights are turned on.

“It probably takes two or three days (to decorate the tree) with all the tinsel,” Johnson says.

She doesn’t mind the task, though. It reminds her of Christmases of so many years ago on the farm in Elbow Lake, Minn., where she grew up.

“Maybe I do it for me,” she says. “It brings back all the good memories of growing up and of Christmas. I am sure of all my time on the farm I was sick the most around Christmas ... I would lay and look at the tree and dream dreams.”

The star

While the tinsel is important to Johnson, there is no decoration more important or meaningful to her than the small, cardboard star that sits near the top of the ceiling-high artificial tree.


“(My parents) were married in 1935 and moved in with their in-laws on the farm,” Johnson says. “Her new in-laws apparently weren’t into Christmas like my mother was. They had vegetable soup for the Christmas meal — that did not sit good with her. So, she was determined that next year to make it special.”

When a holiday magazine was sent with the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, Edna Mae Haugen knew just what to do.

“She cut (the star) out and put it on top of the tree,” Johnson says. “And my dad, he got a tree!”

Eventually, Johnson was able to bring the star to her own tree, where it has been nestled proudly near the top ever since each holiday season. She isn’t the only one with the special memory these days: With a photocopier and some creativity, she ensured any of her family members who wanted it could get their own star.

Anna Marie Johnson shared photocopies of the original paper star — cut from a Minneapolis Tribune magazine in 1936 — with her family. Emma Vatnsdal / The Forum

“I have the original though,” she says with a smile.

Christmas traditions

Setting up a Christmas tree is a tradition that many people follow. However, the act of adorning the branches with lights, glass ornaments and garland can mean something different to each person.


For Johnson, setting up her tree is a time to remember years past, when money wasn’t always plentiful, but the love that came with each holiday definitely was.

“I got a doll every Christmas until I was 13 I think,” she says. “They made sure that we had something for Christmas.”

Family and traditions make the holidays a special time of year, with many choosing Christmas as their favorite of the holidays.

“It’s got to be (family),” Johnson says. “And how you grew up and the memories you have.”

Memories that shine, like the little paper star on top of her tree.

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