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Brenda Rudolph's dad, right, reads the Christmas story to Brenda and her brother on a Christmas Eve in the early 1980s. (Submitted photo)

Family traditions provide a beacon in hard times

This year, many farmers are just trying to get through the holidays. Many have had to make difficult decisions.

Hard conversations have been had at kitchen tables, the same place where many farm kids have written their letters to Santa.

Sad choices have been made for many to sell their dairy cows. When dairy cows are sold it brings in another conversation: Can we stay? How can we stay? Some have also had to move to a new house, a new community, a new life with new traditions.

Many farm families are trying to find their new normal — their new holiday traditions they can keep and ones they will no longer have. Farm families hold traditions close. For some, it may be going home to the farm. For dairy kids, it may be working together Christmas morning before any other festivities can happen. Others have traditions of Christmas lights on the barn and throughout the farm yard.

A nativity scene hand painted by Brenda Rudolph's father remains part of an important family tradition.My parents had passed away in my early 20s within three years of each other. My family and I had to navigate how our holidays would look like. Growing up, Christmas Eve was filled with traditions. From what we ate to when we ate to going to Christmas Eve Mass to when we open presents. As our families have grown, we have added traditions and kept the ones that are most important to us.

One of those is the Nativity story. My father had hand painted a ceramic nativity set and built a stable early in my parents' marriage. On Christmas Eve, my father would read the Christmas story to us. I can still hear his strong voice. In my childhood home the nativity stable would be completely empty with the light on, waiting for the birth of Jesus. As we grew older my mom took a Golden Book Nativity story and hand wrote in the book. The hand painted nativity statues would be handed out, the wise men, Joseph, Mary, camels, stable animals, an angel, shepherds and sheep. While my dad would read us the story, he would tell us who would go into the stable. This tradition is important to our family. As the kids get older, they have the conversation of who gets to read and who read the previous year.

Nate Rudolph reads the nativity story in 2012.No matter where we celebrate together, our parents nativity scene comes with. Each year, I unwrap the delicate statues and hand them out on Christmas Eve. Each year, the Golden Book's binding is more creased than the year before. Each Christmas, we see and feel the dedication of our parents. During the Christmas story, for a moment we are gathered in stillness as we listen to the story. The worries of the year and the worries of the coming year fade for a moment. We are gathered together in the true meaning of Christmas.

This Christmas, celebrate being together. Because that is enough and it does matter. Just to be together.