Bluebirds of Happiness,
Plus Enjoying A Lutefisk Banquet
by James J. S. Johnson
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) ©WikiC
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. (Proverbs 3:13)
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he. (Proverbs 16:20)
Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord. (Psalm 144:15)
In honor of the so-called “bluebird of happiness” (with apologies to song lyricist Edward Heyman and vocalist Jan Peerce), we can think for a moment about being “happy”. (In fact, nowadays, isn’t it just “ducky” to appreciate being “happy, happy, happy”?)
Years ago someone told me that the Bible only promises “joy” to godly people, never “happiness”. The idea was that “joy” is a gladness that is content in the Lord, regardless whether the surrounding circumstances are pleasant or unpleasant. (“Happiness depends on what is happening to you”, I was told, “but joy is only dependent upon your appreciation for God Himself — glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever.”)
Wise-sounding sound bites, right? But is that Biblically sound advice? Not quite.
While it is certainly true that our joy should be anchored in the Lord, as we appreciate belonging to Him (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 100:1; Luke 10:20 & 15:6-7; Philippians 1:3-6 & 1:25-26 & 4:4; etc.), — it is also Biblically proper to enjoy being happy — glad — as we enjoy appreciating and experiencing the many blessings that God gives to us, here and there, from time to time (Proverbs 3:13 & 16:20; Job 5:17; Psalm 146:5-9; Esther 8:16-17 & 9:17-19 & 9:22; John 13:17; Romans 14:21; 1st Peter 3:14 & 4:14)!
In fact, if a happy occasion is honoring to God, surely it will blend joy with happiness (compare holiday happiness in Esther 9:17-19 with the “joy” mentioned in Esther 9:22).
Fair Use credit: Norwegian Society of Texas, including Steve Ogden, toasting at Cranfills Gap Lutefisk Supper
[ Fair Use credit: Norwegian Society of Texas, including Steve Ogden, toasting at Cranfills Gap Lutefisk Supper]
So, it’s not unbiblical to be happy about being happy (being compassionately sensitive to context, of course – see Romans 12:15). In fact, we should enjoy being happy with gladness, living life with a song in our heart — and laughter should not be a stranger!
Accordingly, with those happy thoughts in mind, let us now consider the famous “bluebird of happiness”. (By the way, that popular phrase caused my own mother, who recently left Earth for glory, to especially appreciate Eastern Bluebirds — she was known to greet family and friends with the words, “welcome to the happy home!”) And all bluebirds need “homes” to nest in.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by J Fenton
So what kind of bluebirds (“of happiness”, presumably) do we have in America?
There are three bluebirds in America: Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis – bright blue above, orange underneath, ranging mostly east of the Rocky Mountains), Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucides – bright blue above and light-blue underneath, ranging mostly in and west of the Rocky Mountains); and Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana – bright blue above, with underside blue at the “bib” and orange on the lower underside, ranging mostly in and west of the Rocky Mountains).
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) juvenile by Quy Tran
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) by Daves BirdingPix
Since last Saturday I saw a brilliant blue-backed Eastern Bluebird, flying in the Texas “hill country” (where they often winter), I will now limit my comments to the Eastern Bluebird.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by S Slayton
Roger Tory Peterson gives the following description of the Eastern Bluebird:
“A bit larger than a sparrow, a blue bird with a rusty red breast; appears round-shouldered when perched. Female duller than male [no jokes, please!]; young bird is speckle-breasted, grayish, devoid of red, but always with the same telltale blue in wings and tail. … Habitat: Open country with scattered trees; farms, roadsides.”
[Quoting from Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS: A Completely New Guide to All the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 1980; abbreviated title: EASTERN BIRDS), page 220 & Map 301.]
[another picture of an Eastern Bluebird, or 2 or more]
In fact, the Eastern Bluebird is the official state bird for both Missouri (since AD1927) and New York (since AD1970), where it is often found, especially in summer months (according the Peterson’s EASTERN BIRDS, at Map 266). In America, the Eastern Bluebird is the most common of the three bluebirds, and it is the only one that is commonly found east of the Great Plains.
Eastern_Bluebird-rangemap rangemap Y-Sum B-win G-yr rnd ©WikiC
Just a couple of generations ago, colorful bluebirds frequently (and happily) displayed their brilliant blue plumage plentifully in Texas, – ranging from the Piney Woods of East Texas, westward into the Hill Country (east of where West Texas touches the Rocky Mountains). However, their numbers have declined, as their nesting range habitats have shrunk (and as competitive avian “demographics” have changed their nesting-dependent procreative opportunities).
At one point Eastern Bluebird populations were so depressed (due to nesting challenges, especially as bluebird-friendly cavity trees disappeared), that efforts (by local Audubon Society chapters and other bird-lovers) were exerted to expand their nesting opportunities, by providing birdhouses equipped with ingress-egress holes tailored to suit these birds (and thus to deter their nests from invading competitors or predators).
Specifically, birdhouse openings were sized to be no larger than 1.5 inches in diameter, in places where bluebirds habituate (such as along roadsides and in open fields), and bluebird populations have improved — happily! So the population trend, for America’s bluebirds, appears to be headed for a “happy ending”.
Now I return to why I was traveling in the Texas Hill Country, when I saw a bright blue Eastern Bluebird – flying from one rural field over to another – on a cool winter morning.
Eastern Bluebird postage PD
In fact, my wife and I were driving through Bosque County, into Clifton and later onto Cranfills Gap, to celebrate Norwegian Christmas festivities.
And, for the brave at heart (and stomach), the highlight of that Saturday was a Lutefisk Supper, a tradition (in that area) originally sponsored by St. Olaf Lutheran Church (of Cranfills Gap), now provided as a feast-fundraiser for Cranfills Gap High School. Of course, Norwegian-American Christmas festivities are happy activities, which is only proper — because holiday happiness has a Biblical precedent from the Old Testament (see, e.g., Esther 8:17-19).
Cranfills Gap Lutefisk Supper road-sign photograph by James J. S. Johnson
So what is a “lutefisk supper”? Why do some regard it as a holiday festivity?
For many of Nordic heritage, especially those who are unusually brave in their cuisine adventures, a unique and historic preparation of codfish, called LUTEFISK, is an unforgettable Christmas tradition:
‘The Lutefisk Supper is one of the most interesting events in Cranfills Gap [a town in Bosque County, Texas] and is centered round a dried fish imported from Norway. The tradition began many years ago sponsored by the Ladies’ Aid [Society] of the St. Olaf Lutheran Church. After several years of time-consuming preparations, organizing, cooking, and serving, the crowds attending the supper became so large that the ladies of the church felt they could no longer carry on this custom so it was discontinued.
In 1965, Oliver Hanson had an idea for a way to financially help the [Cranfills Gap] school’s athletic programs. To do this, the Lions’ Booster Club of Cranfills Gap High School revived the tradition of serving the Lutefisk Supper.
This group took on the arduous task of preparing the fish. The fish comes from Norway in 100-pound bales [i.e., stacks of dried codfish]. The weight of each dry fish is from one and a half to two pounds and has already been split in half. Volunteers saw each dried fish into chunks [note: nowadays the hard-dried codfish is usually cut by a woodshop’s power jigsaw] about four inches long, and then skin the fish of its dry, parchment-like skin. This is a slow and difficult job. Next, the fish is soaked in a solution of lye [a strongly alkaline solution, usually dominated by potassium hydroxide] and water for 72 hours. At the end of these three days, the [now softened] fish is taken out and rinsed and cleaned of any excess skin or any brown spots. Most of the fins are removed. Next, the fish is soaked in a solution of lime [limewater is an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide] and water for a period of 72 hours. The fish are taken out at the end of that time and carefully cleaned again. After this cleansing, the fish are then soaked in clear water for 96 hours, changing the water every twelve hours [culminating ten days of various soakings of the no-longer-stiff stockfish!]. By this time the chunks have swelled to four and a half to five times the beginning size and are white. At cooking time, the fish are placed into a cheesecloth bag, put into a pot of salted, boiling water and boiled about five to ten minutes. The boiled fish is served with melted butter, white sauce, and boiled Irish potatoes. Plenty of salt and pepper is a necessity!
Lutefisk serves to bring the [Bosque County] community together as an all out effort probably not seen anywhere else. On the first Saturday of December almost every able-bodied person in the Gap community begins his or her assigned task[s]—some bake turkeys, some peel potatoes, some bake pies [one favorite being a combined cherry-and-apple pie!], others donate coffee, tea, or sugar. The person in charge of organizing the dinner assigned duties and food preparation. Tickets are usually sold in advance, but also at the door [of the Cranfills Gap High School gymnasium]. By 4:00 pm the guests begin to arrive. The [high school] cafetorium will seat about 200 people at one time. The food is served family style and high school girls are the waitresses. The boys wash the dishes. Through the years, each December as many as 900—1,000 guests have eaten a very delicious meal.
If a diner is not so certain about lutefisk…[!] turkey, dressing, green beans, [cranberry sauce, in lieu of lingonberries] and pie complete the menu. The cost of the fish has increased from $500 for a 100# bale to $2000 for an 80# box. An adult ticket in 1965 cost $4.50, but today the ticket is $18. In the fifty years the Booster Club has sponsored this traditional supper, $250,000 has been donated to the school towards various projects and improvements.
Betty Carlson Smith added more interest in this event when she began teaching elementary age kids several Norwegian [folk] dances. These dances are performed in the gym for those waiting for their time to be served. Betty has since retired but the dance tradition [in the gymnasium ‘waiting room’] continues. For a very reasonable price there is good food, great service, friendly hospitality, and fun.”
Quoting from Darla Kinney, Charlene Tergerson, Rita Hanson, & Laverne Smith, CRANFILLS GAP, TEXAS: LOKING BACK AND MOVING FORWARD, November 2015 edition (Cranfills Gap, Texas: Cranfills Gap Chamber of Commerce Historical Committee, 2015), page 56-58.
Students Skinning Codfish, in preparation for Cranfills Gap Lutefisk Supper
So there you have it! Lutefisk banquets, to Nordic-Americans, are often part of Christmas tradition, — and if you are anywhere near Cranfills Gap (Texas), for the first weekend in December, you might want to check out the annual Lutefisk Supper (Saturday evening), and enjoy watching young children dance, as you wait to be called to the banquet table!
Norwegian folk dancing by children at Cranfills Gap: entertainment before lutefisk supper
Some of us are happy as bluebirds when feasting on lutefisk. (And some, for various reasons, prefer to abstain!)
But regardless of how you celebrate the Savior’s birth at Bethlehem (fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Micah 5:2), — whether by eating lutefisk, lefse, and lingonberries – or whether you rejoice in Christ’s historic arrival, by observing some other cultural custom, – the key is to joyously and gratefully appreciate that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Reason for the season! JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME!
[Fair Use image credit:
Turdidae – Thrushes
James J. S. Johnson