Nestled alongside a winding country road in Southwest Ohio, rests a red brick farmhouse that has played host to Christmas for 185 years. Christmas tree trimmings have evolved from candle lit trees to L.E.D.’s; the homestead has remained constant throughout the many years of holiday trends and offers it’s stewards its own unique gift. As the homestead has become the keeper of family traditions and memories for nearly two centuries, the gift of wonder can be found throughout the season. From the time the fresh cut tree crosses the threshold to when everyone gathers around the fire on Christmas Eve to listen to A Night Before Christmas, I imagine what Christmas looked like long before us. While the walls have denied my requests of those memories, the descendants of the homestead graciously provided a peek of how Christmas was once celebrated long ago.
Christmas at the homestead was like Sunday supper where family came together to enjoy a meal prepared by Grandma Wehr. She treated everyone to her homemade noodles which could be found drying on every available flat surface. They would be ladled over potatoes and creamed chicken was poured over biscuits. Following supper, each child received their gift, the same piece of the clothing, carefully, and lovingly made by their mother. There is no question through the family’s reminiscence of those now distant Christmas suppers, that beyond the delightfulness of Grandma’s noodles and the warmth from the clothing, the true gift to family members was their generous thought and time.
Being intentional can be a challenge around this busy time of year, however, many of us participate in the simplistic and long-standing tradition of cutting down a tree to display in our homes. For our family, the anticipation of “Tree Hunting Day” begins long before Christmas as we look forward to waking early, putting on our boots, and meeting our family for breakfast before caravanning to our favorite tree farm in hopes of finding the perfect Christmas tree. While traipsing through woods and open fields, the concerns of yesterday disappear and with each step I find myself more aligned in what the season is about and how profound these simple rituals define who we are as a family today.
Every day leading up to Christmas, my walk to the mailbox is like the walk through the open fields, hopeful of finding a bright red envelope that is hand addressed and complete with a seasonal stamp. I look forward to opening the envelope and seeing photos of family and friends and I find a sacredness in the cards which have handwritten notes and signatures. It is because of those cards our family began a tradition of our own and one I hope our children will carry with them. In the early part of December, we gather in front of the fire in our dining room with our stack of Christmas cards adorned with a winter scene of the homestead. We then select a Christmas record, and take turns passing around the cards, signing our names, as well as our animal’s names, to wish our friends and loved ones a merry Christmas.
During this time, conversation typically leads to our children sharing what they hope to receive from Santa on Christmas day which stirs memories of years driving to the nearest place where our children’s carefully curated letters could be dropped off and delivered to Santa at the North Pole. It is a tradition looked forward to every year and one our family has created for the children in our rural community. Together we transform our roadside farm stand into a “Letters to Santa” stop decorated with strands of colored lights, lighted candy canes, a Santa, and a bright red mailbox. We set out candy canes tied with a note from our family and small bags of reindeer food for the children to sprinkle outside their homes on Christmas Eve signaling Santa and his reindeers to stop at their home.
It is through the traditions we’ve carried with us as well as the traditions we’ve created here at the homestead where I find myself more rooted in the season. I find comfort through their familiarity, thankfulness for the vivid memories they hold, and am reminded of how important it is to be intentional with our thought and time. For when Christmas day has passed, the memories that have shaped us will carry the spirit of Christmas into the new year.