North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
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Christmas Memories

At Farmstead Creamery, we’ve been hosting open studio wreathmaking classes, whether for a lively family with a small troop of children or for friends gathering for a fun afternoon.  The freshly harvested balsam and white pine boughs fragrance the room as we trim the sprigs into palm-sized pieces.  We laugh as we wrestle with florist wire, sticky fingers, and prickly branches.  Working clockwise around the crimped wire base, with a few tips of the trade, our old-fashioned wreaths are forming.

Making wreaths during the holiday season is a tradition most ancient.  The wreath, as a circle, is a shape for unending continuation (rather like the infinity sign is to the sciences), a symbol that winter is part of the turning of the year.  The greenery of the pine not only scents our dwelling with the distinctive piney-freshness that immediately conjures Christmas tree memories but also is there to remind us that spring will return and all the world shall be green again.

Ribbons tied into bows, glittery bobbles, and antique ornaments provide the finishing touches to our creations, which now adorn the doorways of homes and cottages with Christmas cheer.  Already, I have one hanging below the light of the farmhouse porch, waiting to greet traveling relatives upon their arrival.  It’s little things like making and hanging wreaths, rather than canned holiday tunes playing in a shopping center, that bring back the best of Christmas memories.

The baking and sharing of homemade cookies are also intertwined with the smells and tastes of the season.  The whir of the electric mixer as it creams butter and sugar is a sure sign that oven-hot treats will soon appear.  Creamy thumbprints with minty frosting in green or blue cool beside cocoa-rich chocolate crinkles, dusted with powdered sugar.  Almond-infused spritz cookies in the shapes of trees, wreaths, hearts, camels, and Scottie dogs await their sprinkles and silver-ball eyes.

A house that smells like cookies is an irresistible invitation.  The savory peanut butter blossoms with Hershey’s kisses pressed into the middle, or peppermint white chocolate bark are some more favorites.  Lately, Kara has been making truffles, stirring the fudge on the stove diligently, cooling, then meticulously cutting.  When it’s time for dipping each piece into smooth chocolate and decorating their tops, it’s quite an assembly operation.  All the while, soft holiday music plays in the background—old carols, traditional favorites.  We sing along as we work in the kitchen.

While I’ve grown too old for Santa Claus to visit anymore (the fellow is booked so solid these days), I still remember the Christmas I was determined to see Santa at work.  At least I wanted to figure out how he came down the chimney!  An eager and imaginative eight-year-old, my plans were laid very carefully.

This was before we had moved up to the farm, and our house at that time had a lofted part of the stairway that looked down onto the living room, with its fireplace and accorded knitted stockings in cheery greens and reds.  Mom and Dad were downstairs, doing whatever Moms and Dads do when the children are supposed to be in bed.  Five-year-old Kara was in on my reconnaissance plans, but she had fallen asleep.

I was lying in bed, wide awake, listening for the sleigh bells of the reindeer that would soon alight on our roof.  I waited…and waited…and waited.  It seemed an utter eternity.  Well, maybe the roof was so well-insulated, I couldn’t hear the bells.  Maybe the reindeer didn’t get bells this year, so they would be stealthier.  Anyway, I didn’t want to miss Santa by waiting too long.

Sliding out the side of the bed, I crept on hands and knees towards the hall that led to the stairs.  The carpet was quiet, and I knew all the squeaky spots in the floor.  Carefully, carefully, I crept down the hall to the first rungs in the rail overlooking the livingroom.  Mom and Dad were still talking and doing the dishes in the kitchen below, where they couldn’t see me peeking.  But the stocking were flat…really flat.  I was too soon for Santa.

With the same utmost precaution, I slithered back to my room at the very end of the hall and slunk into bed.  Again I waited.  Maybe Santa really does know if you’re asleep or not.  I stared at the ceiling, at the snow falling outside my window…and then I woke up to Christmas morning.  I had totally missed Santa!  But he had come anyway, despite my intent to be mischievous.

I also remember the magic of the glowing Christmas tree in the evening—the colorful lights glinting off antique and family ornaments of birds, angels, snowflakes, icicles, and more.  The presents lovingly wrapped beneath were often made by hand.  These days, we get terribly practical with our Christmas gifts to each other—insulated work pants, new leather gloves, or a fresh pair of barn boots.  Sometimes, if the old ones have worn out beyond repair, the Christmas gifts are pressed into service before the holiday and without the formalities of wrapping paper!  Ah well, the chores still have to be done, even on holidays.

This Christmas season (or Chanukah or Ramadan or Solstice), take time to share a special memory from your childhood.  Enjoy a steaming hot cider by the fire, bring Christmas cookies to a helping neighbor, hang a wreath on your front door, and listen for the tinkling sound of Santa’s sleigh in the winter night’s sky.  Blessings of the season to you and yours, and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

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