The four Schmidt children understood well that Christmas Eve gift-giving wouldn’t begin until they had cleaned up the dinner dishes. Their mother, Kay Schmidt, insisted on it. What she didn’t realize some decades ago is that the meal itself would become an integral part of the family’s holiday tradition. One that continues today.
Son-in-law Joe thought enough of the custom that he wrote to Hormel Foods recently, unbeknownst to Kay and her husband, Paul. Joe was in the National Guard when he married their daughter Jenna. He was deployed to Bosnia soon after their wedding, and Kay sent him a Christmas care package. It included single-serve cans of Dinty Moore® beef stew so Joe could be close to his new family, if only in spirit.
Now, some 40 years after the Schmidt family made Dinty Moore® the centerpiece of its Christmas Eve dinner, Paul and Kay Schmidt shared their family’s unique story.
In The Kitchen
“I always gave Sarah, Tim, Mark and Jenna the responsibility of cleaning up the kitchen. We didn’t have a dishwasher, and they were quite young,” she explained. “I got some Dinty Moore® [beef stew] because everyone liked it, it was healthy, and it was an easy cleanup. They loved it.”
Kay and Paul soon realized they were on to something with their choice of Dinty Moore® Beef Stew, although that didn’t keep them from trying to improve on perfection.
“I added peas to it one year to stretch it. That was never to be done again,” Kay laughed. She also served homemade beef stew once and – even more upsetting to the family – purchased an “off brand.” “I agreed with them on that,” Kay said. “It just wasn’t the same.”
Paul and Kay were high school sweethearts from Belle Plaine, Minn., who met when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. They were married several years later. Paul began his career as an eighth-grade geography teacher. Kay, a nurse, soon became a stay-at-home mom who ran a home-based day care center.
“Life was fun,” Kay said. “We hung out with other teachers. Paul played on the softball team.” During summer breaks, he painted houses for extra money, and the family traveled up north to enjoy Minnesota vacations. “It was perfect for us,” she said.
They call themselves soulmates who were friends from the start. According to Paul, “We liked being together the most.” The Schmidts celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2018. “We’ve been together most of our lives,” he said. “We both came from families with strong traditions.”
That plays out not only in their Christmas Eve festivities, but at other times as well. For example, every Thanksgiving, Kay sets the table with a white cloth on which family members write what they’re grateful for. One cloth is already filled with years of memories. A second one is underway.
It’s just fun being together.Kay Schmidt
Their family has grown considerably since two cans of Dinty Moore® stew came to the rescue of four anxious kids. Christmas Eve at the Schmidts now has 19 gathering around slow cookers filled with the beloved Hormel Foods brand. The meal has since expanded, but Dinty Moore® Beef Stew is still the main course. There are other, more subtle changes, too. For starters, the Schmidts now have luxuries such as a dishwasher and an electric can opener, and it takes 11 cans of stew to feed everyone.
Paul and Kay know they are lucky that their sons- and daughters-in-law’s families have always been happy to take Christmas Day with their kids, leaving the night before to them.
“Christmas Eve has always been our time together. Everyone hangs around a long time. It’s just fun being together,” Kay said.