And There Where Cows at the First Christmas


Last Christmas, the adults in my family decided to contribute the money we would have spent on gifts for one another (and on a few adult friends outside the family) to Heifer International. I think all of us had mixed feelings about the idea leading up to Christmas morning this year. Each of us saw potential gifts that we didn’t buy for one another and we felt strange about it. I wondered more than once how if I would feel disappointed on Christmas morning by not seeing the excitement on  loved ones’ faces as they opened gifts from me. I confess that I worried about not getting any presents to open for myself.

The wonder and worry were for nothing because Christmas morning was exciting, peaceful, and emotional. We watched the kids (all teenagers now) open their gifts and we experienced that feeling of excitement as we saw the joy on their faces. There was a new, peaceful pace to the morning because it wasn’t as chaotic with all the extra boxes, paper, and bows. And as each of us secretly put our contributions in the heifer envelope, I teared up when I thought about the difference our alternative-giving Christmas was going to make in people’s lives.

We’ll count the money later today and pick out the the animal(s) we’re going to give. I hope we have enough to buy a cow. After all, it’s called Heifer International. And there were cows at the first Christmas.


After we counted our money, most of us were holding back tears of joy as we realized we had enough money to buy two heifers, a sheep, honeybees, and two flocks of chicks. Frank read the moving copy from the Heifer catalog that described what each animal would mean to a family or a village. As he read about the sheep, the the radio played “In the Bleak Midwinter” and we heard these words:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

It was enough to send us over the edge and eventually into laughter.

All of this is to say, without a doubt: BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

The Christmas Tradition That Must Not Be Repeated

Several years ago, I thought it would be smart to find something to cook for breakfast that I could make in advance for Christmas morning. I wanted breakfast to be more than the regular fare, but also something that wouldn’t take a cook away from the gift-giving festivities. The solution? Porridge cooked overnight in the crockpot!

The recipe consisted of whole grains: pearl barely, oatmeal, wheat germ, and who knows what else. The concoction cooked on low in the crockpot all night, and by morning, the convenient, healthy, and inviting Christmas Porridge had become sticky, tasteless, inedible Christmas Gruel. I promised the kids I’d never serve it again. And so, the Christmas tradition that must not be repeated was born.

Here’s how it works. Each year on Christmas eve, the adults in the family take turns making something to eat (not necessarily a breakfast food). The only rule is we can’t make the dish again, even if we like it. Over the years we’ve had:

It’s my sister’s turn this year. She introduced us to stackers—chocolate wafers (like you eat with ice cream) layered with red and green colored cool whip. YUM!