As Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters croon away in the background, I ponder Christmases past. I get a bit caught between Christmases past and Christmas present in my head somedays. I spend far too much time wishing I could ask my mom for all of her secrets to making the entire month of December so magical for us. I especially want to know how she got us to behave; because I swear we jumped when she asked for something, eager as we were to please. At least that is how my memory replays those years; hers may be different. My most fervent question perhaps comes from the thought of future Christmases. What will my children remember most about the Christmases of their youth? Am I doing it right?
    I brought up the topic of Christmases past at breakfast with Grandpa and the crew. Ione’s face lit up with a grin and her eyes twinkled like lights on a Christmas tree. “Ike, remember when we used to go Julebukking, (also known as) Christmas Fooling? Oh, did we have a time!” Grandpa gives a hearty chuckle and nods vigorously. Julebukking is an old Norwegian tradition of dressing up in disguises and going door to door singing Christmas carols, sometimes adding new recruits along the route. By the sounds of it, quite a time was had by Bud, Ione, Grandpa, and Gramma Ike. They would knock on doors completely disguised, sing their songs, see if anyone wanted to join them, and maybe get some more warmth for their insides.
    My all-time favorite Christmas story from Grandpa’s past is when he and Gramma would don their red suits and go visit Bud and Ione’s children. Dressed as that magical couple themselves, they would jingle their way into their house, and then make the children kneel and pray before doling out trinkets. This story has been retold countless times over the breakfast table, and never loses its charm. Bud and Ione’s children still remember those visits to this day.
    Elvera piped up from her spot at the table, saying, “It wasn’t about the gifts back then.” A flurry of nodding heads agreed with her statement. They would each get a little something and spend the day visiting family members. That special time together meant more than paper wrapped gifts. She talked of ‘Santa Claus Saturday’ that used to be held in Cashton, with a free movie, a visit from the man himself, and little bags of candy given out to children. That was a highlight of the season when children were young.
    As my dad talked of his Christmas memories, I understood where many of the traditions from my youth originated. Everyone in their family would do chores together on Christmas Eve. The animals received extra bedding, and were all well fed before they would go to the house, where lo and behold, Santa had snuck in while they were working. “We didn’t get much, but we didn’t require much,” Dad said.  It was one gift for each child, in addition to a tube of toothpaste and a pair of socks, a time-honored gift tradition in the Mlsna family for generations. Christmas Day brought church service, chores, and family time.  
    Looking back, Stacy and I recall many of the same things from Christmases past. We all worked together in the barn to make sure the animals felt the joy of Christmas as well: extra straw was tossed in pens, a few extra handfuls of grain given. I remember the tinsel we would put all over the tree – obnoxious to clean up, but so sparkly. There are a few gifts that stand out in my mind (Cabbage Patch doll, pink snowpants), but above all it was the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of magic. Mom always went out to push up hay after we had gone to bed on Christmas Eve, that was when the animals had the gift of talking, and she wanted to be sure to hear their chatting. She would fill the Currier and Ives tins with sweet treats and store them on the porch, the radio was always blaring carols, with Mom humming as she worked in the kitchen. We were watchful of those sneaky elves peeking in the living room windows to check on our behavior and report back to the big guy. The Catholic church of our youth had six huge trees, draped in white lights. To this day, no church décor compares to the vision of the one in my memories. The nativity in the corner of church was the backdrop for every Christmas Day family picture for years. As I look back through pictures, that yearly photo is such a lovely constant. The sounds of ‘Let There Be Peace On Earth’, and ‘Joy to the World’ still transport me back to church on Christmas morning. The smells of the old stall barn full of wondrous beasts celebrating Christmas – snug and warm, hay in the mangers, steam wafting up from the cows.
    I think some of my questions for what Christmas future will hold were answered when I retrieved some of the Currier and Ives tins at the farm to decorate a bit with. Stacy’s Finley eyed them up, and asked, as only a child with such a love of sweets can, “Are you going to make cookies? You put cookies in those last year.” I couldn’t help but grin, because you can’t miss the tone of hopefulness in his voice. I do my best to bellow Christmas carols as loud as possible to drive the kids nuts, telling them I can’t bake without the music. Stacy and I have made sure that all the kids take an active part in helping with chores on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We emphasize the magical place the barn is at that this time of year. I am convinced the animals can tell what a special day it is, that somehow deep within their beings they know what happened in a barn so many years ago. I can only keep trying to make memories, and feed the children around me a steady diet of stories (and cookies) from past Christmases as well.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.