Do you remember everything you got for Christmas last year? If it wasn’t something special to eat–fruitcake, cookies, fancy breads or candies–do you still even have everything you were given?

Also–do you remember all the gifts you’ve given to friends and family members over the last five years? Do you remember what they gave you–and again, do you still have these ‘things’?

Do you do a lot of decorating for the Christmas season? Do you decorate for the Annual Christmas Decorating Contest sponsored by local businesses?

This alone makes me glad I live in the country. I’ve never been very good at this sort of thing, although I like to drive around at least once during December to see the decorations. Some folks go all out, thousands of lights strung on roof lines, trees and shrubs as well as around all the doors and windows, and the animated Santas and elves are always fun to watch. Sometimes the stores stay open later in the evening and serve coffee and cookies to entice last minute shoppers inside.

We keep things pretty simple here–a wreath on the front porch and a live cedar tree to decorate in the living room. I’ll set up the old Nativity set I made back in the early ‘70’s, wrap an old quilt around the tree stand and “call it good”. In recent years, it seems to me that people are almost in competition with one another to see who can give more ‘stuff’, and spend the most money. If they don’t have cash, they max out the credit cards and pay for Christmas until the following September.

Why not keep things simple by giving just one gift per person–nice, but not real expensive–and then relax and just enjoy this time of year. Spend the time visiting with family and friends (some of the grandparents only see their grandchildren at Christmas time due to long distances.) Please don’t forget those in Nursing Homes and hospitals. Volunteer at the homeless shelters serving a good meal to those less fortunate. Attend the Christmas services at the church of your choice and be sure to attend those Christmas programs put on by the school children.

But above all, relax and enjoy this very special time of year. Have a Blessed Christmas!

–Paula

(A dear friend shared the following story with me about 15 years ago. It brings tears every time I read it–this is a true story)

Because Of Love

A brother and sister had made their usual hurried, obligatory pre-Christmas visit to the little farm where dwelt their elderly parents with their small herd of horses. The farm was where they had grown up, and was named Lone Pine Farm because of the huge pine that topped the hill behind the farm.  Through the years the tree had become a talisman to the old man and his wife, and a landmark in the countryside. The young siblings had fond memories of their childhood here, but the city hustle and bustle added more excitement to their lives, and called them away to a different life.

The old folks no longer showed their horses, for the years had taken their toll, and getting out to the barn on those frosty mornings was getting harder, but it gave them a reason to get up in the mornings and a reason to live.  They sold a few foals each year, and the horses were their reason for joy in the morning and contentment at day’s end.

Angry, as they prepared to leave, the young couple confronted the old folks. “Why do you not at least dispose of the “Old One”? She is no longer of use to you. It’s been years since you’ve had foals from her. You should cut corners and save so you can have more for yourselves. How can this old worn out horse bring you anything but expense and work?  Why do you keep her anyway?”

The old man looked down at his worn boots, holes in the toes, scuffed at the barn floor and replied, “Yes, I could use a new pair of boots.” His arm slid defensively about the Old One’s neck as he drew her near with gentle caressing, he rubbed her softly behind her ears.  He replied softly, “We keep her because of love. Nothing else, just love.”

Baffled and irritated, the young folks wished the old man and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward the city as darkness stole through the valley.

The old couple shook their heads in sorrow that it had not been a happy visit. A tear fell upon their cheeks. How is it that these young folks do not understand the peace of the love that filled their hearts?

So it was, that because of the unhappy goodbye, no one noticed the insulation smoldering on the frayed wires in the old barn. None saw the first spark fall–none, except for the “Old One”.

In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a cry of horror and despair, the old man shouted to his wife to call for help as he raced to the barn to save their beloved horses.  But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing heat drove him back.  He sank sobbing to the ground, helpless before the fire’s fury.  His wife back from calling for help cradled him in her arms, clinging to each other, they wept at their loss.

By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking, glowing ruins were left, and the old man and his wife, exhausted from their grief, huddled together before the barn. They were speechless as they rose from the cold, snow covered ground. They nodded thanks to the firemen as there was nothing anyone could do now. The old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon his shoulders as his shaking old hands clumsily dried her tears with a frayed red bandana. Brokenly, he whispered, “We have lost much, but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas. Let us gather strength and climb the hill to the old pine where we have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down on our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared and pray for our beloved most precious gifts that have been taken from us.

And so, he took her by the hand and slowly helped her up the snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back of his old and withered hand.

The journey up the hill was hard for their old bodies in the steep snow. As they stepped over the little knoll at the crest of the hill, they paused to rest, looking up to the top of the hill the old couple gasped and fell to their knees in amazement at the incredible beauty before them.

Seemingly, every glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pine, and it was aglow with heavenly candles.  And poised on its topmost bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like spun glass.  Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas tree such as this.  They were breathless as the old man held his wife tighter in his arms.

Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of wonder and incredible joy. Amazed and mystified, he took his wife by the hand and pulled her forward. There, beneath the tree, in resplendent glory, a mist hovering over and glowing in the darkness was their Christmas gift.  Shadows glistening in the night light.

Bedded down about the “Old One”, close to the trunk of the tree, was the entire herd–safe and sound!

At the first hint of smoke, she had pushed the door ajar with her muzzle and had led the horses through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping cautiously through the snow. The foals were frightened and dashed about. The skittish yearlings looked back at the crackling, hungry flames, and tucked their tails under them as they licked their lips and hopped like rabbits. The mares that were in foal with a new year’s crop of babies, pressed uneasily against the “Old One” as she moved calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now she lay among them and gazed at the faces of the old man and his wife.

Those she loved, she had not disappointed. Her body was brittle with years, tired from the climb, but the golden eyes were filled with devotion as she offered her gift:

Because of love.  Only because of love.

Tears flowed as the old couple shouted their praise and joy. And again the peace of love filled their hearts.

(I think the above story resonates with those of us who live in the country and love our animals…be they horses, sheep, goats, cattle or even the chickens! We talk to our critters and care for them in a way that many ‘away’ from the country lifestyle just do not understand.)


by Paula Vogelgesang | Paula Vogelgesang is the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", and is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory. Email her at [email protected].  Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.