We are bumping up against the holidays. Last minute fall projects have fallen mostly by the wayside as the snow, ice and cold has arrived. It is time to keep cattle fed and bedded and concentrate on quality time in the parlor.
    It is also time to think about how the lifestyle of dairy farming fits into our traditions of this season. Will we make it to Christmas church services on time? When should we have extended family Christmas dinner this year? Will we have any extra help for chores?
    I listened to a National Public Radio interviewer question Peter Kappelman, a dairy producer from Manitowoc, Wis., about the current dairy situation recently. Something he said really struck me. “Everything we do on our dairy is planned around the cows.” His comment got me thinking about how true that really is. It is inevitable that the celebrations surrounding Christmas and New Years are planned around the dairy cattle and their care.
    My childhood memories growing up on a small diversified dairy, hog and laying hen operation focus mostly on the preparations such as setting up the nativity scene and Christmas tree, followed by the food, gifts and merriment. I remember being in the barn and helping with chores, even on Christmas. I am sure my dad worked ahead so he would not have as much to do on the days we were celebrating. Still, there was feeding, bedding, milking and the egg operation. What I remember most is my older siblings and their spouses pitching in to help so my parents could finish sooner and enjoy their time with our family.
    My husband remembers giving the cattle extra bedding and the cats extra milk on Christmas Eve. This is something that is still meaningful to us.
    Santa was a tradition in our family, maybe because of our German heritage. Being the youngest by nine years, I was tricked by my older brothers into racing from door to door while Santa came to deliver my gifts. I was sent to the window to look for his retreating sleigh, which I am sure I pretended to see.
    When I joined my husband’s Norwegian family via marriage, the Santa was replaced by the Nisse and Tomtens, who are the Scandinavian Christmas pranksters. The food changed, too, with the Scandinavian delicacies such as lutefisk, lefse, lingonberries, sandbakkels, krumkake, and much more. I grew up with ham and wild rice casserole and the green wreath cookies made out of corn flakes and marshmallows. I recall being asked about holiday food traditions when I joined the family. All I could think of for a reply was, “We like mustard on our ham.”
    I have enjoyed learning about our Norseland community’s traditions, which seem more distinct than my own family’s. I wonder if this might be because my Behrends family has blossomed, with four generations involved. What was a sit-down dinner is now a planned potluck set out buffet style, with a lot of grazing before and after. One thing remains the same, though. Rolf and I are always graciously asked what day and time will work for us, since we need to take care of the cows or find others to fill in for us.
    How and when to celebrate the Christmas holidays seemed to evolve from year to year when our children joined our family, our dairy herd increased and what our employee situation might be each year. Chores needed to be done, cows had calves, vet calls happened, snow storms complicated plans and it was not easy to navigate through the demands of a typical dairy farm.
    How to fit all of the various children’s Christmas programs, church services, parties and traditions in between chores seemed to be nearly impossible some years. I remember thinking, “When will we have our own family’s Christmas celebration?” With so many others to juggle around, we struggled some years to find time to sit down together and open gifts. I think our children learned a great deal of patience and understanding during those years. The advice given to set a certain time for our family’s celebration perhaps should have been heeded to make it a more special and lasting memory.
    On the other hand, it might be that our children will remember that we planned our celebrations around the care of our cattle, the needs and desires of the others in our family and the simple joy of being together as we did chores and gave the cattle extra bedding. If they even think about a little piece of those traditions in the years to come, it will be wonderful.
    May you enjoy the blessings and traditions of the season. Keep things simple and meaningful. Enjoy being with your loved ones. We will keep our tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.