The night before Christmas was always celebrated with extended family at my great aunt’s home. We would play games with our cousins and take photos in our new Christmas pjs in front of the tall skinny Christmas tree my great aunt and uncle kept in the center of their sitting room. The adults would eat, drink, tell stories, and laugh loudly in the neighboring room. It was a glorious celebration. However, it always seemed to have to end a little too soon for my family. Growing up, my siblings and I were told that we needed to get home early to get ready for Santa to come. I now know that the reason for our early departure was so my dad could get home and get some sleep before he needed to get up to work.
We grew up on a dairy farm which meant that we learned at a very young age, cows don’t take a holiday or even wait for late arrivals to the barn. They needed to be fed and milked at the same time every day. We had a growing herd and a very old and outdated milking parlor. This meant that the parlor was only shut down for an hour between each milking to run the wash cycle. For a few years of my childhood I can remember my dad, uncle, and a few other family members rotating around the clock for milkings. During those years we would leave the family Christmas Eve party around 7pm to be home and in bed by 8pm, eagerly awaiting Santa Claus! My dad would have to be at the farm to start setting up the parlor by 1am so, while we were sleeping warm in our beds, he was out in the elements taking care of the cows.
My brother, sister and I all slept on the second floor of our house, so early Christmas morning, 5 am early, my brother would sneak into my sister’s and my room to see if we were up and ready to see if Santa had delivered presents! The rule set by our parents was that we weren’t allowed to open presents, or even go into the family room were the tree was, until my dad was home from chores and was able to take a short nap. We waited and waited, bouncing around on our beds, trying to quietly contain our excitement until 6am when our dad would get home from the barn and try to fall back asleep. Then, as a tradition in our home, we would all fumble down the stairs around 6:30am and head straight into our parent’s bedroom to wake them up! (poor dad didn’t typically get any nap at all) We would jump on their bed and hoot and holler about it being the most amazing day ever! My mom would be just as excited as we were and tickle us and my dad would pretend to be sleeping. We would do everything in our power to wake him. It was a silly game that we enjoyed every year.
Eventually, after our teeth were brushed and we said a prayer of gratitude, we would open presents. One by one the gifts were revealed. We took our time and marveled at all of our new treasures but there was always the knowledge that we couldn’t take too long lingering in the background. We all knew that soon enough it would be chore time. Dad would kiss us on the head, leaving us to play, and head back out into the winter cold to care for the cows once again.
- WNY Farmer