The old ranch house takes on a bit of a Christmas look this time of year with the addition of a string of white lights and some cut cedar and pine branches wired to the porch railing.  If I have the time and energy, I just may tie a big red bow on the back door.
 
Country folks around here use ‘the back door’ knowing there are rugs and mats available for snowy boots and overshoes and sturdy hooks for hanging coveralls to drip-dry after a morning of chores. One of our neighborhood rituals in the wintertime is sitting at the old round wooden kitchen table where the coffee and cookies are, or some other holiday goodie is waiting!
 
Home-baked gingerbread men hang from a length of brown grocery twine over the kitchen and dining room windows, sending their ginger scent through the house. Some are decorated and some are plain, the product of a ‘kid project’ on a snowy December Saturday afternoon. They look homey and the birds love them after Christmas. (They get too hard and can’t even be used as ‘dunkers’ after hanging around for a month.)
 
The Christmas tree was cut from a thicket in the pasture, and sends it’s cedar scent through every nook and cranny of this old house. The decorations are old; many are homemade by my children over the years at school. Each one contains a wonderful memory. I guess you could call our Christmas decorating eclectic. It’s never had a single theme, like so many of the showplace homes on display every year.
 
And most of the gifts under the tree are homemade and handmade with love, instead of money.
 
The handmade nativity set is in its usual spot on the shelf in the living room. Made of ceramic, it’s survived many small hands in its 40-plus years. The barn was homemade by an uncle of my husband and the setting up of the Nativity is a part of every Christmas my children have celebrated here.
 
On one of the benches in the dining room sit several baskets and decorated boxes of homemade jams and jellies and perhaps a plate of Christmas candy or cookies made with the help of small hands. These will be shared with neighbors and friends throughout the month as folk’s come and go.
 
Most of the talk is of the old year just past. Thankfulness for all of the moisture we received after many years of drought and the gratefulness for a good hay crop this past year, and much discussion about the great blizzard in early October that decimated so many of the cattle herds of our neighbors and friends. 
 
Some have said it will be spring before the final count can be tallied up because some of the snow banks are so deep since the rain fell first. But ranchers are a determined lot; they do what they do for love of the land and their ‘critters’, and most will survive.
 
When the church bells ring across the land on Christmas Eve, we will be grateful for the year past and hopeful for the New Year to come.
 
Merry Christmas, from our house to yours.

Till next month,
Paula