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Christmas on the Ranch

December 21, 2019

Our halls are decked, the presents mostly wrapped, there’s even a figgy pudding waiting in our refrigerator, and I’m already getting nostalgic about the holiday season ending. 

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite time of year. There was always the anticipation of presents, of course--the wonder of Santa, who, despite bringing gifts to every kid everywhere, still managed to know just what I wanted. But, I also loved the sharp, spicy scent of the pine-laden mantel, the crackle and spark of the hearth, the gingersnaps and molasses cookies my mother made, with their inky, mysterious bite, and the cool spike of candy canes licked on one end to a needle-thin point. Such a feast of pleasures.

Now that I have kids of my own, this time of year also feels a little complicated. We are very lucky--we live in a time and place of plenty. My kids probably have more clothes, toys, and books at 3 and 4 years old respectively, than their great-grandparents did during their entire childhoods. I am so thankful to be able to provide the essentials without worry; not everyone has this opportunity.

Some amount of scarcity does have its rewards, however. For my part, the treats and treasures of Christmas were so special, precisely because they were rare. My parents were careful with their money. There was enough for necessities, but not often for luxuries. In fact, that was how I knew Santa Claus was real: my parent’s could never have afforded to buy us all those toys! 

That being said, you know what I actually remember? Not the presents, which have long since faded into a blur, but the glow of candles at evening services, standing outside in the cold dark to watch my dad plug in the strands of blue lights he hung every year, and stringing cranberries and popcorn garlands to weave around the fragrant branches of our Christmas tree. Those memories, not the objects received, have withstood the test of time.

So, I’ll admit, I’ve been a little unsure how to approach Christmas for my own children. I want to offer joy and richness, but also simplicity. I want it to be more about giving than receiving. I want them to remember light and warmth, sweet smells and laughter during these, the darkest days of the year. I want them to remember the coziness of being together.

With that in mind, yesterday I took my daughter down to the north pasture to search for materials to make a wreath. We gathered silver sage leaves, striped turkey feathers, scarlet buffalo berries dried on their slim thorns, and the golden ghosts of asters’ stems. Back at home, I molded a wide ring with the salt dough the kids and I had mixed up the day before. While I added the items I’d collected to my circle, the kids made pancakes with their share. Behind us, our juniper branch Christmas tree twinkled with color. The reflections of its tiny lights were sprinkled across the dark kitchen window like a thousand bright stars, carrying the warmth of our little house out into the long, deep night.

 

 

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