In the fall of 1988, my sister-in-law, Maria, asked all the Rosmann family members to prepare a brief statement for the Christmas celebration to be held that year at the home she shared with her husband, Ron, and their three pre-teen boys.
I grew up on the family farm where Ron and Maria live still.
Family members I miss were alive then – my mother and my brother, Larry, who despite his disabilities, taught many of us what is most important in life. Sadly, Dad had been gone almost a decade already.
Maria asked all the expected visitors to write or say something about what Christmas meant to each of us prior to our gift exchange. Her request prompted me to write from my heart, whereas before then I mostly wrote in the dry scholarly prose required for scientific articles, grant submissions to research foundations and patient reports. My graduate school professors made me set aside creative intuitions and feelings when writing, but Maria’s request reawakened them.
Here is an update of what I wrote in 1988 about the meaning of Christmas. I couldn’t accurately say what was most meaningful about Christmas then; I hope I am more capable now.
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When the snow lightly settled on the silent countryside while my family journeyed to and from midnight church services, I felt a tingling in my heart. I thrilled at the midnight masses in our little German-Catholic community when the choir of mostly farm men and women, of which I was a part, broke into four-part harmony while singing Silent Night.
I felt a tear enter my eye and a chill down my spine when Marilyn sang O Holy Night in her rich soprano voice.
I remembered when Shelby, our first born child was just five days old for her first Christmas in the arms of her happy mother with proud Grandpa and Grandma Rosmann nearby. I felt I was the luckiest man in the world. How does one top those moments of ecstasy in determining what it is most important about Christmas?
Even after many days of contemplation back then, I still could not say with complete certainty what was most meaningful about Christmas. I had arrived at what I felt most deeply about Christmas though.
I truly loved getting up in the gray of dawn and brewing a steaming hot pot of coffee to sip while going about morning chores on our farm. Christmas morning stirred in me special affection for my cattle and prompted me to drop extra shovels of corn and layers of aromatic alfalfa bales into the bunks of the powerful herd bulls and gentle cows.
The rooster pheasants beating their wings and crowing to the harem of hens still in the spruce and pine windbreak as the eastern sky brightened told me this rich farmland produces bounty for wild and domestic alike. How fortunate we were to enjoy such luxury.
An hour later as I approached our farmhouse, chores completed, I could hear excited shouting through the lighted windows, the latched storm door and heavy wooden inside door, as the kids discovered unpredicted treasures in their Christmas stockings. They ran to the entryway when they heard me kick off my boots.
Jon hugged my coated waist, oblivious of the chaff brushing onto his pajamas, as he told me, “Thanks Dad” for the newfound Nintendo game and another box of shells for the shotgun he had received last year.
Shelby planted a shy adolescent kiss on my frosty cheek as she said “Thank you,” for the new hair dryer and sweater her mother had so thoughtfully remembered.
Then Marilyn hustled to the doorway and threw her arms around my neck as she said for the 16th consecutive year, “This is the best Christmas yet.” I forgot my inner debates about the meaning of Christmas and uttered an unspoken prayer of thanks to God as I hurriedly stripped off my heavy outer clothes to investigate what might be inside my long red stocking by the fireplace.
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A few things have changed since the Christmas in 1988; my understanding of what is key has solidified.
Marilyn still throws her arms around my neck and says “This is the best Christmas yet.” My farm chores are making the coffee and feeding the kitties outside our back door each morning.
Instead of pheasants that awaken at daybreak in our grove, two great horned owls affirm their pair bonds each dawn and dusk, one in alto and the other in baritone. The pheasants hang out in the tall prairie grass of our CRP land and seldom speak up loudly because of the predatory owls, except when bravado overwhelms the cocks’ caution during mating season.
I know now what makes Christmas meaningful is giving rather than receiving, humility rather than pride, and total commitment to “Not my will, but Thine” in all we do. Christmas is even dearer now.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Farm and Ranch Life Christmas column published in 2015.