Getting into the Spirit

This morning wasn’t the easiest recipe for feeling filled with holiday cheer. Winds gusted, pelting the little ice balls falling from perpetually gray skies at my face like biting stones. While doing chores, I had my hood pulled up to protect my neck, but I still had to hold an empty water bucket in front of my face when walking upwind, the solid precipitation stung so bad!

When another northern gust would come racing across the field, it was difficult to walk forward. At one point, water bucket before me like some misplaced snout, bent over, trudging up the slippery incline by the south end of the barn with the wind before me, I found myself taking steps but getting nowhere! The two cows watched from their pen in the barn, wondering what on earth this silly human was doing out in this weather. Perhaps I was dancing in the slush and ice and wind solely for their personal amusement, or at least that might be what a cow would think of the situation.

Back at the Creamery, any boxes left on the north porch were covered in ice and scattered everywhere, needing retrieval from yard and forest. The wind had knocked over both our lit outdoor Christmas trees and promptly frozen them solid to the ground where they lay. The wind whipped over the greenhouse’s plastic top, shaking it with a sound like thunder.

Hmmm…cheery.

It’s been a tough lead-up to Christmas, with so little snow, and none of what little there was lasting. At a recent indoor market at the Northern Lakes Cabin Stop, greeting passersby with “Merry Christmas” was sometimes met with confusion or a grumble, despite the decorated tree, carolers at the Salvation Army bucket, and holiday music crooning over the speakers. Folks just seem to be having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season this year.

But, of course, the grumpy weather and all shouldn’t stop us from trying! Decorating helps, while playing favorite holiday albums and baking those old family recipe cookies. There’s random dancing in the kitchen, licking the chocolate-covered spatula, and wrapping presents for family that can’t make it up to the farm this year. There’s the smell of almond extract, zesty peppermint, and hot chocolate with foamy marshmallows.

This year, Steve brought out of storage his quirky collection of Santas—from Santa the fisherman, to Norwegian St. Nicholas, to a formed paper Santa that’s at least 90 years old (to name just a few). Climbing the wiggly wooden farm ladder saved for those really tall jobs, I scaled up to the decorations shelf above the downstairs dining area to take down and dust summer’s collection of chickens, pigs, and baskets, exchanging them for a host of whimsical and jovial Santas—each expressing its own take on the spirit of giving.

Decorations brought out year after year and passed down through families bring out stories as they are unpacked—remembering Grandma’s house when you were little, how a particular item was gifted by a friend, or how something always makes you laugh when you take it out of the box. It’s never just about the things but what they bring out from inside of us—memories, stories, laughter. In my book, that’s way better than having a house that looks like page 45 from a holiday catalog!

Getting ready for the season also means dusting off favorite Christmas carols for performance. Last week, I played as part of a private business Christmas party in Spooner, where they had transformed a warehouse into an enchanted forest of huge, live Christmas trees, decked with lights, presents, and fluffy fake snow. The five-course dining event was going to take three hours, plus a sing-along, which can be a daunting task when some carols like “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In” are incredibly short and may contain only five to seven notes! Fortunately, there are treasure troves of songs and tunes for the season far beyond the top 20 typically played at the shopping mall.

It was fun to rediscover old favorites that only get played one or two months of the year and learn some new pieces for harp, dulcimer, and guitar. These were also shared this last week at the first night in our fourth season of Harvest Dinners and Concerts at Farmstead Creamery. Featuring three-course farm-to-table dinners with holiday themes and live performance, the dinners break up the winter doldrums for great food, fun, and camaraderie.

Last Saturday, guests joined us for a full turkey dinner, with ingredients fresh off the farm, including: mixed greens salad with boiled beets, walnuts, and feta cheese; home grown mashed potatoes with turkey gravy; sautéed Brussel sprouts and onions; herbed roast turkey (imagine that, turkey from the farm this year…); oatmeal biscuits with craisins; cran-blueberry chutney; and choice of homemade pumpkin or pecan pie with just-whipped cream. Candles flickered on the table amidst handmade ornaments, shiny bobbles, and fresh greenery.

One guest shared her delight at spending some Christmastime at the farm, “Every year, all the family comes up to our place, and we do all the cooking and such. And this year, I said to my husband, ‘Please, can we go somewhere and let someone ELSE cook Christmas dinner for us?’” And here they were, sitting across the table from another couple, the husband of which had just managed to get back in time from a search and rescue mission, trudging in the woods for hours.

Another group of ladies had come to the dinners after learning about the event during their annual birthday lunch pilgrimage to the farm this fall. And another guest signed on after seeing a notice in our email newsletter! All coming from different places, they joined the farm table to celebrate the season, singing carols together and feasting from the bounty of the year’s harvest.

I felt so warmed and cheered inside as we cleaned off the tables and put away the instruments afterwards, thinking on the gatherings this time of year that spread the joyful spirit of Christmas.

Once again, as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

As the cookies come out of the oven, as truffles emerge from the dipping chocolate, and as relatives make plans for their annual pilgrimage up to the farm, we wish for you and yours a warming of the heart this season—whatever winter holiday you observe. And we also hope that, despite the slushy ice I know I’ll have to face again tonight with evening chores, that you’ll find some time for getting into the spirit that lifts us from the darkness of wintertime. Merry Christmas from all of us, and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime!

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