The Farmer’s Daughter:
My first memories of Christmas when I was 7 or 8, my siblings and I would all get up early, like 4:30 am early, bursting with anticipation of the day. But the rule in our house was we weren’t allowed to go downstairs where our parents slept and where a tree umbrellaed our gifts until 6 am. So, with time to spare, we would gather on my bed to create a plan. The goal was to get our parents awake, teeth and hair brushed, and smiling for an annual Christmas morning photo in front of the tree as fast as possible!
When the clock radio on my nightstand rotated to 6:00 we raced down the stairs, cautious not to knock over the youngest of us, which would have just slowed up the process. Our mom and dad would pretend to be asleep, and we would jump and cheer for the fun of the day. One of us would often claim to have heard Santa or his reindeer on the roof during our sleepless night. Our dad had two main tricks; he would beg for another hour of sleep after already working at the farm, and we’d have to pull his dead weight from the mattress. His second trick came before we got downstairs, when he would arrange pillows under the covers to look like it was him sleeping and hide in the closet. When we jumped into their bed to find nothing but pillows, we’d laugh, call for him, and start the search.
Once our parents were in place out by our beautifully decorated tree and done teasing us about the large amounts of coal in our stockings, we were allowed to join them in the family room where the tree glowed, and the mountain of presents was more than any of us expected. We put our arms around each other in the pose we discussed earlier that morning for a photo, said a prayer to God for the blessings of his son’s birth, our family, and the bountiful year we had. We then established an order for opening gifts. Our mother was a stickler about only one person at a time opening a present while everyone else admired. It took abundantly longer to open this way, but her philosophy was that we had all day to spend together as a family, with nowhere else to be. It forced us to be patient and to truly engage with each other in the moment.
The Farmer’s Wife:
Christmas morning growing up in a lake town was quiet. The hustle and bustle of lake life took a break for the winter season and only a few families remained in their homes on the water. I never understood why more people didn’t want to stay for winter on the lake. My backyard froze solid and became the perfect landscape for sledding, snowmobiling on the lake, and ice-fishing. I loved being outside, but Christmas day was spent mostly inside different houses with various family members both of immediate and distant relation.
My three siblings and I would wake up at my mom’s tiny house to a tiny tree wrapped in colored lights and an assortment of fun and whimsical ornaments. After we opened our gifts, we would load up in the family’s station wagon to be dropped off at dad’s house. We’d open gifts with our stepbrothers and stepsisters before loading up again and go to grandma’s house to meet up with the rest of my dad’s extended family.
When I started having children that recognized Santa and year after year grew more excited about the wonders of Christmas, my husband and I had to establish some rules. Farm chores came first, and our kids knew that. Dad had to go to the barn and do chores before coming home to try to get an hour of rest before the kids all trampled down the stairs and jumped into bed with us, begging to get ready to see what Santa had brought.
Every year I was just as excited as the kids, so I was always lying there awake when he returned to our bed at 5 am. We would giggle about the traditions we had created with our children and listen to them above us, gathered together, scheming about when they were allowed to come down to our bedroom.
On the dot or a minute before 6 am, all three children piled into our bed, jumping, and laughing, hooting, and hollering about the Christmas magic they truly believed. It was music to my ears. After teeth were brushed, hair was combed, and the battery for the video camera was off the charger and in place, I pressed record on Christmas morning. Parents went first to see if Santa came and to get in the perfect position to videotape the youthful reactions to the mound of presents awaiting them that I had invested in for months leading up to this moment.
Christmas morning growing up as a farm kid in the 70’s wasn’t very different from other mornings. We would get up around 4 am to do chores and milk our 60-cow herd of Holsteins through a double six herringbone parlor. When the cows were milked and fed, the calves were bedded and fed, and the parlor was done washing, my dad, three brothers, and I would head up the hill to our quaint farmhouse where my mother and sister made a hardy and savory breakfast.
Under our tree awaited a gift or two for each of us and the handmade gifts we five rugged farm kids made our parents at the Church Christmas Bizarre a few weeks prior. We would unwrap warm gloves and hats and a couple of other items from our wish lists to Santa. Later that afternoon we would head to our grandparents’ homes each for a couple of hours to spend time with our numerous cousins outside in the snow while our parents drank coffee and Christmas punch.
Years later, with three kids in matching pajamas by their mother’s hand, antsy for Santa’s booty, sound asleep, my alarm rang at 1 am on Christmas morning. Our growing herd of 400 cows was still milking in our aged double six parlor, making milking last longer than what was enjoyable. The necessary tasks of milking, feeding, and cleaning barns were completed by my father, brother, and me most Christmases. We worked quickly in the dark of the early morning, knowing that young minds would only stay asleep for a few more hours.
Once back home, I would find my child-hearted wife lying awake in our bed. I would attempt to fall back asleep for any amount of time, but typically that was a distant desire. We would talk about how insane this early morning tradition was and how we should have made 9 am the acceptable hour, rather than 6 am. We’d talk about which gifts the kids might be most excited about and remind each other of Santa’s routines.
Knowing the kids would be jumping into our bed at any moment looking for their “sleeping” parents, I would play tricks on them, hiding in different places, or making the pillows look like my body sleeping under the covers, prolonging the gift opening was for my own amusement.
Opening gifts always took forever, but I knew better, after a couple of years, than to complain or mention getting back to the barn for late morning chores and noon milking. So, I waited, trying to remember the gifts my wife showed me weeks before, all while making an ongoing effort to stay awake for each moment.
Farm families across the country and around the world have different traditions and for each person, they see the day through a different lens. What you just read is just one family’s story, however, as an adult now, I ask other farm kids how their Christmas days played out and there are many commonalities, then and now. What they all share is that their animals come first; before their need to sleep, before their first meal of the day, and even before their children’s longing for Christmas magic. Farmers truly care for the animals they keep, and all members of a farm family understand the commitment it takes to produce food and the multitude of other products that come from production animal agriculture.