A Christmas Tradition

In 2008 I sat down and interviewed my maternal Grandmother, Lucille Beiersdorf Chvarack Ash (1920-2011). We talked for over two hours. I asked her what she remembered about all of her relatives—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, her husband, John Chvarack (1916-1967) & his family. Since I hadn’t known any of the folks we talked about, I learned a lot that day. At the end of the interview, she turned the tables and interviewed me. We had a good talk.

Lucille grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She was the only child of Herman (1895-1983) and Amanda (1894-1973) Steinhaus Beiersdorf. Both of her parents had several siblings who resided in Sheboygan. One of the stories Grandma told me was of the family’s Christmas Eve tradition.

Our entertainment was different than now & like on 13th Street—Christmas and so. We’d start at my Grandma’s, we went to church, came from church—we’d start at my Grandma Steinhaus’ & they would have some candy or little things, not big gifts, but little things, have a Christmas tree & we’d sit around. Then we’d go over there about a block to Ray and Olga’s & their 2 children & we would sit there for about a half hour or so & then we’d go over to my Aunt Ella & Uncle Walter’s & we would do something there–see their Christmas things & they had a piano so they would play a little bit once in a while & from there we went up about a block to visit another aunt and uncle, Martha & Gustav & that was Janet Steinhaus & Don & Kenneth & there we would do the same & we had one more aunt & Uncle Paul & that would be at the last stop–then they would come over to our house–from 13th street over so that was about, oh, maybe 8 blocks or so–they would come over there & then we would all have something– & have–oh coffee & drinks–I think the men had drinks, or had one drink–we would get coffee and then have some refreshments & Mother would always have cookies & cake & that was on Christmas Eve.

Essentially, the Christmas Eve tradition was to attend church services & then visit the homes of each Steinhaus family member in the immediate area “on 13th Street.” 

First, a look at the Steinhaus family:

  • Otto Steinhaus (1869-1954) married Emilie Binder (1867-1940). Their children were:
  • Walter (1891-1962)
  • *Ella (1892-1953) married Walter Axel (1893-1945)
  • *Martha (1893-1934) married Gustav Becker
  • *Amanda (1894-1973) married Herman Beiersdorf (1895-1983)
  • William (1896-1963)
  • Clara (1897-1974) married Rudolph Voigt (1897-1968)
  • *Paul H. (1900-1972) 
  • *Olga (1907-1981) married Ray Steinbruecker (1906-1980)
  • Edwin (1909-1955)

Unfortunately, I don’t think I have any pictures of these gatherings. I do have a picture of some of the Steinhaus siblings mentioned in Grandma’s interview:

Steinhaus family
  • Left to Right, Back Row: Walter Axel, Gust Becker, Herman Beiersdorf, Rudy Voigt, Emilie Steinhaus.
  • Left to Right, seated: Ella Axel, Amanda Beiersdorf, Clara Voigt, Martha Becker & Kenneth
  • Left to Right, children in front: Edwin Steinhaus, Allen Steinhaus, Olga Steinhaus. 

The picture was probably taken in late 1917 or 1918.

Now, to follow the path of the Christmas Eve gathering. Through US Census records and Sheboygan City Directories from the 1930’s, I was able to figure out the addresses of all of the homes mentioned. Each family owned their home. I wonder, if like my Great-grandparents, some were the original owners?

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

1 They started at church. This was Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1121 Georgia Avenue). It was the home church for most of the Steinhaus family. Newspaper articles in the 1930s indicate that there was usually a service at 7pm on Christmas Eve. This was the service that included the Christmas program from the Bethlehem Lutheran School that was attached to the church. While Lucille did not attend this school, I think some of her cousins did. So perhaps through the years, the family would start with watching some of their children in the program. 

2 From the church, they would all head to “Grandma Steinhaus’” home. This would be the home of Otto and Emilie Steinhaus (1437 South 13th St.) In 1930, their youngest son, Edwin, age 21 was still living with them. There they would have “some candy or little things, not big gifts, but little things…”

3 Next, they would go to “Aunt Olga & Ray’s”–Olga & Ray Steinbruecker (1524 South 13th St.). They would stay for about half an hour. 

4 Then on to the next aunt & uncle: Ella and Walter Axel (1617 South 13th St.) Grandma said that they had a piano, so I bet there would be some good music and singing at their place. 

5 Next was the home of Gustav and Martha Becker (1708 South 13th St.). 

6 Then to Paul and Anna Steinhaus’ place (1847 South 13th St.).

7 Finally, they would reach the last stop, Herman & Amanda Beiersdorf’s home (2211 South 14th St.) Refreshments would be served, and after visiting for a while, everyone would return to their own homes. According to Lucille, this migration would take until about midnight, then she and her parents would open their presents. 

All in all, the trip from the church to South 14th St. was about a mile. Sounds like the families would gather every year for the same routine. I wonder if each family had it’s own specialty when it came to refreshments? I also bet they all enjoyed the festivities and decorations at each house. Eventually, more children were added to the families & I’m sure the cousins would compare Christmas wish lists and try to figure out the presents under the trees. Then the grandchildren would come along as the routine continued. With all of them living in such close proximity, it is a sure bet that the families were interacting frequently. My Great-grandparents lived in the house on South 14th St. until Amanda’s death in 1973. I think many of the siblings stayed in their homes most of their lives. So the tradition ended with the passing of the elders. 

I asked my Grandmother if they then slept most of Christmas, since they had such a big night on Christmas Eve. Her response was “No, we’d get up on Christmas & we’d go to church & then for dinner we would go to Grandma Beiersdorf’s…” They would visit with the Beiersdorf siblings at the home of Augusta Beiersdorf (1868-1955). But at least everyone would come to one location, instead of traveling from house to house. As Grandma said, “the house would be full.”

One more thing I forgot to mention. Wisconsin weather in the Winter can be quite harsh. These two pictures of Lucille show some of the snowfall they had. I expect the transit from house to house might have been a little treacherous at times. 

So in this year when it is recommended not to visit family due to the pandemic, I thought it nice to remember another time when Christmas family traditions meant visiting house to house to enjoy each other’s company and the togetherness of family. 

Merry Christmas!

© MJM 2020