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Every treasured holiday keepsake has a story behind it

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Jennifer Dahl's mother knit this stocking for her 48 years ago. David Samson / The Forum2 / 5
Alvin "Junior" Berg holds the keepsake tree ornament he received as a kindergartner in 1958. David Samson / The Forum3 / 5
Kathy Johnson of Moorhead holds the baby Jesus figure for the Nativity set she painted nearly 40 years ago. David Samson / The Forum4 / 5
Eileen Warzeka of Lake City, S.D., says these keepsake figurines were purchased in Fargo in the 1950s. Special to The Forum5 / 5

FARGO — Every holiday season, homeowners with dwellings of every size pull out their boxes, bins and bags of decorations to festoon their spaces with the merry signs of the season.

Stashed among the many items purchased at end-of-the-season sales and unique boutiques are holiday keepsakes that have stood the test of time and mean just a little more to the person displaying the item than most of the store-bought items.

This fall when my grandparents moved out of their home into an apartment in a senior living community, they offered many of their household goods to their family members.

While I was able to get many wonderful items — holiday-themed dishware, books and a sewing machine — the most sentimental keepsake I claimed was a set of ceramic carolers my grandmother painted back in the 1970s and displayed every year. The little boy's music book had long ago been broken but was religiously glued back on, and the music that used to play when we pressed their fuzzy red hats ceased years ago. But for being more than 40 years old, they were in remarkably good condition.

That is, until we arrived home and my unsuspecting husband opened the back of our vehicle and the little girl caroler rolled out and landed on our garage floor — in many sad, ceramic shards.

He hesitantly shared with me what happened, and I immediately told him not to worry because I still had the boy caroler. But then I stopped — they were a pair, they had always been a pair and one without the other seemed ... incomplete.

So over the course of a few nights, my husband and I meticulously hot glued her back together, and I reunited her with her musical companion when the rest of the holiday decor came out.

Keepsakes are inherently sentimental, even more so when associated with an especially dear person or a particularly momentous time in a person's life.

Take, for example, Alvin "Junior" Berg's adorable stocking ornament. He received the item as a kindergartner at Horace Mann Elementary in 1958, and he's enjoyed hanging it on his Christmas tree every year since.

It's one of the last items he still has from his childhood, he says.

And there's Darcy Lies, 43, from New Rockford, N.D. She loved the ornaments her great aunt made as a student in the early 1940s, and she cherished unpacking and hanging them every year.

She says she was devastated to learn the ornaments had — naturally — been passed on to the great aunt's daughter, so Lies started scouring eBay for similar ones or even a pattern so she could make a new set for herself.

"In my head I had always coveted those, but I never said anything (to my cousin)," Lies says.

Imagine her surprise discovering her mother had reached out to the cousin for photos so Lies could make her own and the cousin generously offered to send the original ones to her instead.

"They arrived about two weeks ago, and it was the first time I've seen them in a number of years," she says. "It was kind of exciting to have them back and put them on the tree ... I told (my cousin) that she can have them back anytime she wants, but she said, 'You're the keeper of family heirloom now.' "

Speaking of families, Jennifer Dahl shared a stocking her mother knitted for her (as well as Dahl's two siblings). Her mother has also knit stockings for two grandchildren and the in-laws who've been added to the family, and Dahl continues to be impressed by the level of detail and expertise the stockings required.

"This was not a beginner project," Dahl, 48, says. She wondered if her mother knit the bottom portion of the stockings and then waited to add the name once the child was born, to help make the project a bit more manageable.

No matter how the keepsake came to be, Dahl treasures the item, especially now that her parents have moved out of her childhood home. Now she displays the stocking in her own house.

Moving from home to home is part of the allure of keepsake. Eileen Warzeka, 66, Lake City, S.D., cherishes a set of figurines made in Japan in the 1950s that actually belonged to her husband's grandmother. She thinks she likely purchased the figurines at the F.W. Woolworth variety store on Broadway in Fargo after she finished a shift working at the Grand Recreation club.

Warzeka says her mother-in-law ended up with the figurines after her parents were both gone, and when Warzeka's mother-in-law passed away in 2006, the figurines were passed down to her and her husband.

"I met my husband in the late 1980s, and every Christmas at his mother's, she had all of those and other figurines out on display," she says.

The keepsake most dear to Kathy Johnson, 67, of Moorhead is a sizeable Plaster of Paris Nativity scene she painted nearly 40 years ago when she was living in Illinois; the store owner's husband made the stable out of reclaimed barn wood she had purchased as well. Johnson has been here since 1997, and that Nativity scene faithfully made the trek as well.

It's prominently displayed in her home (along with several other Nativity scenes she's collected over the years) and her now-grown children continue to cherish the scene to this day.

"You'll notice there are no shepherds or wise men in this scene — it's strictly focused on the Holy Family," Johnson says. "And as we all know, the reason for Christmas is Jesus."

Danielle Teigen

Danielle Teigen has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015. She is the features editor, and she first worked for the company in 2007 as an intern and part-time reporter. She later served as editor for two local magazines and in marketing and public relations roles for an engineering firm and the chamber of commerce. She is originally from Turton, S.D. She is the author of "Hidden History of Fargo". 

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