Away in This Manger

This article was published as part of the Our Rural Roots column with DTN Progressive Farmer.

The traditions my family practices each Christmas Eve are some that I hold most dear. Candlelit church service is followed by tamales and posole for dinner, and negotiating over how many gifts will be opened that night. But, my very favorite time is when we head to the lambing barn.

Before any gifts are opened or tamales are eaten, we go out to check for new lambs and to put our “drop herd” (ewes that are about to lamb) inside the Quonset barn for the night.

We walk from the house to the barn under a pitch-black sky sprinkled with stars shining bright with hope. Oftentimes, there is a blanket of freshly fallen snow to soften our footsteps. The barn is quiet, too, except for the bleating of baby lambs. Sometimes, we carry a bottle of milk with us to help a struggling lamb along. It’s always been understood that even on a holiday — especially on this day — the animals come first.

I’ve been thinking on what it is that makes the barn so special on Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s the moment of quiet in the midst of several days of holiday craziness. There is no hustle and bustle, no worries about choosing the perfect present, no pressure about the perfect place settings for Christmas dinner. 

It could be the animals. There are few things more adorable than a baby lamb and its first wobbly steps. Possibly it’s the connection to the Christmas story. The angel appeared to regular people tending their sheep, which can make that task feel almost sacred on such a special night. 

Did God consider some of these things when he orchestrated the savior of the world to be born not in a palace or place of worship, but in a dark, quiet barn surrounded by animals? Perhaps he, too, understood the sacred space that exists in a barn on Christmas Eve.

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