It's easy for Aggie Sitzmann, of Le Mars, to talk about her Christmas memories because she's always celebrated by attending Mass and family gatherings.
A family member literally played a role in one of those memories -- visits from Santa Claus to Aggie's childhood home, on a farm which was just a few miles outside of Le Mars.
Aggie and her sister, Dorothy, were the youngest among nine Nuebel siblings.
"The others were older and didn't believe in Santa Claus and we believed pretty strongly because he came every year to visit us -- it was a big family gathering," Aggie said.
Nuts and candy were gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve, she said.
The red-suited Santa with a mask on his face also told Aggie and Dorothy they'd find their gifts under the tree in the morning, Aggie recalled.
"Sometimes we didn't wait for morning -- after we got to bed we'd sneak down to see what was under the tree," she said.
Those Christmas morning gifts for the Nuebel sisters were more than the apple, orange and bananas and "a little trinket" their friends talked about.
"We always got some pretty good gifts, something we could use such as a nice piece of clothing, shoes or a coat," Aggie said.
As she was growing up on the farm, one of Aggie's older sisters married a man, Joe, whose family only lived 1 1/2 miles down the road from the Nuebels.
"My sister came and ate dinner with us on Christmas Eve night and she would say, 'I'm sorry Joe couldn't be here because he had to eat with his family tonight, but he will come as soon as they get their dinner over,'" she said.
When he arrived later in the evening, the young Nuebel sisters would tell Joe Harpenau that he'd missed Santa Claus.
"We'd say, 'you missed him, you should have been here' and he would always say he was sorry," she said.
As Dorothy and Aggie were reaching an age when they started to have doubts about believing in Santa, he still came to the farm home on Christmas Eve.
"We were all excited, of course, because he was still Santa Claus and he asked if we were good," she said.
One of her brothers was "kind of a jokester" and told Santa that the sisters hadn't been so good and didn't deserve to have very much, she said.
"Santa scolded him and took off the mask and there he was -- my brother-in-law," Aggie said.
She shared the Christmas memory Saturday while sitting in her apartment at Park Place Estates, in Le Mars.
The presents Santa and family members provided were placed under a fresh evergreen tree.
"The trees would be brought into town and we'd pick out our tree," Aggie said. "Sometimes we wouldn't put it up right away, we'd wait until closer to Christmas, a day or two before."
The tree was a special feature in a room in the farm house decorated with lots of trinkets, she said.
"Little things we'd bring from school and put on it, and we had a lot of ribbons and tinsel," she said.
Another Christmas tradition Aggie remembers was attending Mass at midnight at St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Le Mars.
"It was a beautiful Mass -- the church was decorated so pretty," she said. "They had the lights dimmed before Mass and you could see all the Christmas lights and the trim and the altars were decorated so well."
She described the Christmas scene from her childhood memories as "a beautiful occasion."
The Nuebel girls' parents returned the family to church in Le Mars for Mass "later in the morning on Christmas Day," she said.
"They thought we should have a little service on Christmas Day, too," Aggie said. "Nobody would ever think of going twice today."
In her early years, the family made the trip to town for Mass by wagon.
"My dad was one of the first in the neighborhood to get a car and we were pretty proud of it, we thought it was beautiful," she said.
Traveling to church in a car was so much better than riding in a wagon, Aggie recalled.
A move to California in 1943 to marry and live with her husband, Ed Sitzmann, of Le Mars, introduced a new way to celebrate Christmas with family.
The Sitzmanns had been married in California in May of that year.
Ed was there serving in the U.S. Army with the coast artillery, traveling up and down the coasts of California during World War II, she said.
The first Christmas in California away from their families was very lonely, Aggie said.
The Sitzmanns decided to go for a walk to a store on Christmas Eve and came home to find presents in the apartment.
Aggie's sister, Dorothy, had delivered the gifts. Dorothy was living in an apartment with several other young girls in California, Aggie said.
The first year of her marriage didn't include a lot of expertise in the kitchen.
Aggie made red jello with fresh pineapple as part of a Christmas meal.
That meant the jello "wouldn't set," Sitzmann said and laughed.
Her sister said there would be a Christmas Day celebration under a tree in a park.
"We said, 'we'll join you' and I was going to take that red jello and I had nothing to take, but we went and ate what they had," Aggie said.
She also remembers going to Mass on Christmas Eve during the couple's first year in California.
The tradition of faith and family through Mass year-round and at Christmas has continued throughout Aggie's life and will live on this Christmas at a different location: the new St. Joseph Catholic Church in Le Mars.
The more than 120-year-old St. Joseph Catholic Church was demolished after the new building was constructed to the north of the original church.
Aggie had worshipped in the former church for decades.
But she's looking forward to Christmas in the new building.
"It's a beautiful church," Aggie said.
Christmas Mass 2012 will add to her memories of Christmas filled with faith and family.