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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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TRADITIONS. In 1906 Mrs. Herbert Adams and Miss Martha BAKER encouraged Dubuque residents to follow a German tradition of making the exterior of their homes at Christmas as attractive as the interior. Residents were asked to keep their shades up, place a candle in the window, and decorate with Christmas greens on the night before Christmas. (1)

In 1961 Donna GINTER began serving a free Thanksgiving feast for the lonely, elderly and unemployed of Dubuque. The tradition started at her home and then grew so large that it was moved. The dinner has been served at the Silver Dollar Restaurant she owned, the Dubuque Rescue Mission, and the Knights of Columbus Hall when the number of people served exceeded 350. The meal included turkey and dressing, potatoes and gravy, vegetables, cranberries, rolls, pumpkin pie, and as many as thirty-five salads. More than sixty volunteers helped cook and serve the meal in addition to taking food to shut-ins within the city limits.

Christmas traditions have included residents along Victoria Street and Plymouth Court lighting their street since 1935 with 1,500 candles. Neighbors traditionally meet for a summer picnic where two families volunteer to host the event. The host keeps a scrapbook documenting the past candle-lightings, collects money from the neighbors, and purchases all the material.

At a second party, the lights are assembled. Following Spanish tradition, the neighbors place sand in the bottom of the bag. A votive candle is placed on the sand and lit on Christmas Day. The paper bag with the lighted candle is then placed along the street. Each homeowner is responsible for his or her own candles and those belonging to neighbors who may be out of town. The tradition has led other areas of the city to duplicate the scene that annually draws hundreds of admiring passersby.




1. "Will Introduce Old-World Custom," Telegraph-Herald, December 20, 1905, p. 3Regularly or annually followed practices often associated with religious events.