Family tradition continues for more than 70 years

Descendants of Bertha Ruth gathered for a Christmas celebration Dec. 18 at Holy Family Parish-Riverside.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Since the early 1950s, the family of Bertha Ruth gathers the Sunday before Christmas to celebrate their family and faith in the Iowa City area. The tradition started in the family home but as her 10 children began to marry and have their own children, the gathering outgrew its location, said granddaughter Anita Norman.

The family celebration moved to a Catholic parish site, typically at Riverside or Hills. They attend Mass together and enjoy each other’s company afterwards in the parish facility at that site, granddaughter Donna Arthur said. Before they eat, the parish’s pastor blesses their food.

This year, around 100 family members gathered at Holy Family Parish in Riverside. They traveled from Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and throughout Iowa to attend the celebration. After Mass, they moved to the parish hall. Father Bill Roush, the pastor, blessed the food and attended the celebration. As part of the tradition, the family lights a candle for each member who has passed away. This year, they lit 39 candles, Anita said.


Four of Bertha’s 10 children are still living and three attended the event. The family’s 56 grandchildren have taken over preparations to keep the tradition going, including Anita and Donna. The extended family enjoys a potluck and interactive activities. Photos of Bertha, siblings and family members who have died were on display. The family places an angel in memory of each of these loved ones on the Christmas tree each year.

“There are five generations of Bertha’s family that attend and, as the family continues to grow, the tradition will continue,” Donna said.

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