My extended family usually celebrates Christmas in southern Minnesota on my aunt and uncle’s turkey farm in the same small town my dad grew up in. The farmhouse is big and spacious, sitting between a long gravel road and fields that seem to go on for miles. My aunt is a great cook, and with everyone else bringing food to share for the Christmas dinner, we could feast for weeks without running out of anything. As soon as dinner is done, but before the desserts appear, my uncle kindly takes my kids out to see the barns, and if they’re lucky, he lets them pretend to drive his combine.
Back inside the warm house, people are packed into every corner of the kitchen and living room. There is laughter and hugging, and moments of loud, spontaneous Christmas-caroling. A few of the younger kids might be wrestling on the floor in front of the football game on TV, and one of the moms around my age might be off feeding her baby in a bedroom. My dad and his four siblings gravitate toward the dining room table where they can’t help but share childhood stories over plates of pumpkin pie and traditional German cookies. There is no shortage of joy. Until my grandparents passed away in recent years, four generations of people created a beautiful chaos inside that warm farmhouse on Christmas.
Christmas was different this year. Just after the holidays, all of these family members, living all over the state, traveled to Minneapolis instead of the farm for a family wedding. Because we wouldn’t be gathering for Christmas like we usually do, my parents invited everyone to their house for lunch the day after the wedding. I don’t remember a Christmas with that side of the family anywhere other than my grandparents’ home or the farmhouse. It appears we’ve stuck to tradition quite well!
But knowing Christmas would be hosted somewhere else, even in my own childhood home where I’m so comfortable, I kind of wondered if I’d have that warm, familiar feeling. Would it feel the same if my kids weren’t shoving food in their faces as quickly as possible just to sit in a tractor? Would I get that “over the river and through the woods” feeling by pulling into my parents’ driveway instead of making the two-hour trek through rural Minnesota before coming upon that gravel road? What if Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas?
The day came, and once everyone arrived, every corner of my parents’ home was filled with laughter and hugging. My mom’s kitchen countertops were overflowing with salads, bread and fruit. Three pots of soup simmered on the stove with bowls and spoons stacked at the ready. Everyone from my oldest aunt to my sister’s two-year old helped themselves to whatever they needed in the kitchen.
My older kids wrestled with each other on the floor in the playroom, and one of the toddlers split crayons in half because that’s what toddlers do. A few of my cousins broke into song, and I heard the same tune sung a few times throughout the afternoon, more people joining in every time. After eating a bowl of soup and some salad, I snuck away to nurse my five-month old baby upstairs in my old bedroom. In the meantime, my dad and his siblings had gotten cozy around the dining room table. In between laughter and tears, and eating traditional German cookies, they shared childhood stories and wished that grandma and grandpa could experience this joy for another Christmas season.
We didn’t see combines or turkey barns, and we didn’t drive down a long gravel road for Christmas at the farmhouse this year. It turns out our beautiful chaos finds us wherever we are together.