As we welcome the first day of Winter, and as we await the first true snow fall in the Finger Lakes, I can’t help but think about the 25th of December and all that comes with this day on the calendar. Some folks are excited for an extra day off from work or if you’re lucky you’ve saved enough vacation days to spend a few extras with your family and friends. But personally, I believe the lucky ones are the ones who get to spend each and every day doing what they love – farmers!
Christmas comes once a year but the traditions that are made as a farm family long outlive the time on the farm. I was one of the few lucky kids in my hometown that grew up on a farm which meant my days were spent feeding calves instead of playing on the soccer team. I chose to ride in the tractor with dad on Saturday afternoon instead of hanging out at the local mall. Feeding calves and milking cows were part of a daily routine as a farm kid but some of my favorite traditions were family Christmas traditions on the farm.
Today, your family traditions might include decorating the Christmas tree together, baking cookies with your mom or getting up each December morning with your brother to find where “Chippy” the elf is spending his day. Traditions are what keep the spirit alive and allow families to come together just a little bit more during the holiday season.
One of the well-known family traditions on our farm was that the kids were not allowed to open anything under the tree until the cows were milked and the calves were fed. It’s a tradition that many farmers are used to and most farm kids enjoy. We never ran down the stairs at 5am to rip into the gifts under the tree because dad went to the barn at 5am to milk cows. Unlike most of the world, Christmas didn’t mean a day off for our family or our cows. As farm kids, my two sisters and I were allowed to come downstairs, look at anything in our stocking but the goodies 20 feet away under the tree were untouchable until the animals were taken care of and chores were completed.
Those close to me know that I grew up loving pigs more than cows so one of my favorite childhood Christmas memories as a family was coming home from our traditional late-night candlelit church service in hopes to hop right into bed so good ole Saint Nick would pay me a visit. As we arrived home from church, we realized that the pigs had a different agenda. They decided it was a beautiful night for a walk and had no intention of going back into their warm, cozy pens. After an hour of corralling my pigs back inside, it was finally bedtime but this was one of those crazy nights that we came together as a family and Christmas Eve had to be put on hold just a little while longer because the health and safety of our animals always came first.
How many of you enjoy family gatherings? Do you have a tradition of always getting together at 5pm on Christmas Eve or 2pm on Christmas Day? Farm families, like mine, always try hard to stay on schedule but milking comes first. The girls in our barn set our schedule. They needed to be milked twice a day, at the same time of day, so presents waited, dinner might be cold and family memories were made in a milking parlor before sitting around a Christmas tree.
Now don’t get me wrong, growing up and even today, my family is fortunate to be able to spend Christmas together but as a farmer, we know the important things in life and we know and appreciate the true reason for the season. Traditions run deep in some families and ours is no different so whether you get up before the rooster crows to open presents, cook breakfast in your pajamas together or sing Christmas carols through town on Christmas Eve – remember there is a family making their own traditions behind that tall glass of milk you left for Santa on Christmas Eve.
- Eileen Jensen