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Generations of Searvogels celebrate Christmas together

December 24, 2018

“Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go!” Those lyrics from the traditional holiday song seem to have been written about the annual Searvogel Christmas gathering — which has taken place for nearly 70 years, though family members say the most recent gathering will be their last full-scale holiday shindig.

On Sept. 24, 1929, Margaret Ryan married Art Searvogel and they started a family soon after. Their family blossomed to include eight children, with a 19-year span between the oldest and youngest.

Barb Harrigan of Beaver Dam, the youngest daughter, remembers a family home filled to the brim on Christmas.

“Mother and Dad lived on a farm between Beaver Dam and Randolph. My sisters Isy and Mabel came over with their families to celebrate Christmas Eve beginning around 1950. We all gathered at the house, and as everybody started having kids, it got to be elbow to elbow,” she said. “But we were blessed to be together.”

The Searvogels’ youngest child, Robert, said the family started getting together at larger places sometime around 1980. They have celebrated the holiday at a town hall, restaurant, school and labor hall. This year, the family gathered in a church basement on Dec. 2.

“Years ago families were bigger,” Robert said. “One of my sisters had 10 kids and many of the people here come from her.”

Art and Margaret are no longer living and all but three of their children have passed on. However, the family is still growing. The youngest descendant attending this year’s celebration was Barb and Jim Harrigan’s infant great-granddaughter, Evey Rose.

Several traditions began over the course of the years. One is a family calendar made by Jean Bahr, Robert and Barb’s older sister. The calendar consists of family photos with birthdays and anniversaries noted on its pages. It also includes a list of all family members’ addresses — which is no small task to update each year. Bahr said she usually starts making the calendar each September.

To the delight of the little ones, Santa has made an appearance at most of the annual gatherings, with a gift for those under age 12.

Another favorite tradition is the Christmas card exchange. Bags are placed on a table for each individual family attending the gathering. The calendars are put in the bags along with holiday greetings.

“With a family this big, it sure saves on postage,” Barb said.

Some family members live out of state, but most are within a half-hour drive from Beaver Dam. Around 45 individual families attended the get-together this year.

Even though many generations have enjoyed celebrating the Christmas season together, planning an event for more than 100 people has been become more difficult. The family decided this year’s Christmas gathering would be the last for the entire Searvogel clan.

“This is the 68th year and it was kind of a hard decision not to continue,” Jim said. “The family has gotten so big and has too much going on this time of year, and weather is always a factor in December. We’re hoping to try a summer reunion in the future.”

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