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News From The Homestead 1.2.2014

A Homestead Christmas

By

River Stillwood

It’s almost Christmas and just about everyone I know is, to one extent or another, harried. Okay, joyfully harried, but harried nonetheless.

Some, especially those with children, are frantically racing around, clutching lists — new lists, old lists, lists of lists they need to make — trying to buy everything that needs buying, cook everything that needs cooking, wrap everything that needs wrapping, mail everything that needs mailing, and decorate everything that needs decorating — all before the Big Day arrives. 

Others are more sedate in their panicked last-minute quests to create the perfect  holiday. While some of my friends have completed most of the items on their lists, they are probably standing in their kitchens right now, calmly stirring batches of fudge or divinity or gingerbread while their blood pressure soars off the charts and they secretly hope Aunt Devona didn’t buy them anything this year, Uncle Walter has decided to spend the winter in Yuma, and the next door neighbor understands that homemade treats really are From The Heart.

And, sadly, a couple of my friends have made valiant attempts at creating a Christmas To Remember but, having slowly collapsed under the weight of expectation, exhaustion, and financial ruin, they’ve have thrown in the towel, opting instead for a Christmas To Survive. Instead, they’ll be “celebrating the entire season,” which, translated into real life, means they’ll be buying and baking and mailing deep into the new year. (Of all of my friends, these are probably the sanest. They are also, with one exception, single, childless, and unattached. The excepted friend is a married parent — and therapist).

There are, of course, those few, rare, individuals who started their Christmas preparations in mid-February and finished before Halloween. They wrote holiday greeting cards when daytime temperatures hovered in the nineties, then waited patiently until the Friday after Thanksgiving to mail them. They bought gifts when things went on sale and used last year’s leftover paper and ribbon to wrap them. They spent cool autumn evenings baking and freezing all the sweets anyone could ever want. Then they tossed away their lists, closed their wallets, folded their aprons and let the march of time do its thing. When December arrived, all they had to do was check their mailbox to make sure no cards were unexpectedly returned, lay presents under the pre-decorated-straight-from-the-box artificial Christmas tree, and defrost a candy shops’ worth of treats.

I know these people exist. I’ve heard and read about them. I’ve just never met one. It would be, I think, like meeting an elf. An elf on steroids. A rare occurrence, indeed.

Until moving to the homestead, I would have fit into the most harried group of Christmas celebrants. Although I always started with the best intentions and a good, well-paced game plan, as the days dwindled and the holiday neared I was breaking acquaintance with my bed, cozying up to the coffee maker, and doing everything I could to Be Ready.

Once, I decided to make a king-size patchwork quilt for my sister-in-law Mary. So what if I was starting it on December 20th. So what if I’d never made a patchwork quilt before. No worries. Okay, a few worries. But, it seemed like the perfect gift for her and I was going to make it or die trying. So, I mustered my strength and energy, made a few trips to the fabric store, oiled a friend’s old sewing machine, and set to work. I may not have slept for four days but, red-eyed and shaking with fatigue, I presented the finished blanket to Mary on Christmas morning.

She loved it and her delight made the effort worthwhile.

Other years, I stayed up all night Christmas Eve baking dozens upon dozens of cookies. In fact, once when I was a starving college student, everyone I knew got Baked-through-the-Night Cookie Baskets in lieu of purchased gifts. (That Christmas Eve I baked over 25-dozen cookies)! Other Christmas Eves I stayed up wrapping stacks of gifts. And decorating the last unfinished giant gingerbread house — one of five made from scratch during the three days before Christmas.

My not sleeping the night before Christmas eventually became something of a family tradition.

One Christmas morning, when we were gathered near the tree at my brother Krist’s house, one of my brothers asked me how much sleep I’d gotten the night before.

“None,” I replied yawning. “I was up all night.”

He looked at another brother, stuck out his hand. “I win,” he said. “Pay up.”

Years upon years, my Christmases were lorded over by a deep desire to do as much as I could to give the very best I could. Perfection at Christmastime somehow never seemed out of reach. The right gifts, the right recipes, the right amount of effort and perspiration and money, the right combination of ingredients and the perfect Christmas was possible.

Then I moved to the homestead and all that changed. Maybe because I wasn’t in the city. Maybe because I didn’t have a television, wasn’t constantly bombarded with advertisements for the latest to-die-for gadgets and garments and games. Maybe because I was so far from family and wouldn’t be with them for the holiday. For whatever reason, suddenly Christmas wasn’t about Herculean efforts or money. It wasn’t about gifts or things. It wasn’t about perfection, either.

Suddenly, Christmas was about friends and family. It was about quiet reflection and remembrance. It was about giving thanks and praise.

That year, the only gifts I sent to family and friends were heartfelt words of appreciation written inside holiday cards.

When Christmas morning broke cold and clear and I climbed out of bed after a wonderful night’s sleep, instead of racing to see what was under the decorated tree, I joyfully fed the animals (giving them all a little extra), spoke with family and friends on the telephone, listened to carols on the solar powered radio, made a wonderful steaming hot dinner. I thought about loved ones and how  I was living my life and what I wanted to continue and what I wanted to change. I counted blessings, offered thanks and, in a not-so-well-tuned voice, sang praise.

It was one of the best Christmases of my life!

Last year I spent a delightful, but definitely Big-City-Hustle-And-Bustle Christmas with family in Phoenix. It was a wonderful holiday, I loved every moment of it but, still, I missed being on the homestead.

This year, though, I’ll be celebrating a quiet Christmas here with the animals and an open telephone line to family and friends, good food, a few songs and lots of heartwarming thoughts. While it may lack all the glitter and wrapping and ribbon of a more modern Christmas celebration, for this homesteader, it’s Heaven on Earth, a perfect way to honor the Christmas Spirit.

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To you, Dear Reader, Warmest wishes for a joyful Christmas. As always, I will count you among my blessings and sing your praises.

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