Four generations gather in Minneapolis to celebrate family ties, Danish heritage

·3 min read

They've been getting together for 50 years to talk and laugh, make speeches, look at old photos, hold hands in a group prayer, display the Danish flag, dig into a vast buffet of Danish foods ... and celebrate family.

About 50 relatives gathered on Saturday at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis — descendants of Christine and Nels Gregerson, who arrived on a boat from Denmark in 1882.

Of the five generations that descended from that immigrant couple, four generations are still living, mostly in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin, and were represented Saturday. There were grandparents, great-grandparents, about 10 first cousins and, well, lots of second and third cousins.

"We all have friends, business associates — but nothing means as much as family," said Steve Gregerson, 77, grandson of Christine and Nels and a member of the oldest living generation. "This is where we get our strength and our sense of belonging."

Two generations down from him, Jay DeMerit feels pretty much the same way.

"We're living in a world where we don't see people as much as we used to," said DeMerit, 41, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and probably traveled the farthest to attend. "That community of family is harder to come by."

They all grew up knowing the beloved family stories, especially the tale of Christine and Nels' arrival in New York City. Nels quickly found a job he liked in the shipyards, but Christine wanted to live among Danes in Wisconsin.

"She told him, 'If you're going to be a happily married man with me, you're going to be a farmer in Wisconsin, or else you can be a lonely man in New York,'" Steve said, speaking to the group.

So the couple settled in River Falls, Wis., and had eight children. Christine died in 1967 at age 105. The light-blue dress she wore at her wedding was displayed on a mannequin behind a table spread with old photos of family members and snapshots of previous brunches.

The brunch tradition started in 1971, when newlyweds Steve and his wife, Annice, hosted about 20 relatives in their small St. Paul apartment. Since then, there's been a brunch every December — except, of course, in 2020, when because of COVID-19 precautions they pushed it ahead to July.

The red and white Danish flag was everywhere. People wore stickers with Danish flags; kids handed out Danish flag key rings. Zee Gregerson,, wife of Steve's cousin Larry, painted a Danish flag on her cheek.

All the relatives had been assigned a job — in most cases, a dish to contribute to the meal. Even the children pitched in.

"My kids were here at 7:45 in the morning to help set up the room — they're never up that early," said Kirsten Gregerson, who married into the family's second-to-youngest generation.

Finally it was time for the buffet. The star of the meal was, as always, aebleskiver, ball-shaped Danish pancakes. Other dishes included the spicy Danish meatballs called frikadeller, and kringle, a ring-shaped Danish pastry.

The room rang with cheery conversation as the relatives sat together at long formal tables. At one point, they raised champagne glasses in a toast.

To family, of course.

Katy Read • 612-673-4583

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