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Celebrating a simple season with a rural community gathering

A community event serves as a reminder of the joy that can come with a simple holiday gathering.

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Medina, North Dakota, held a tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 4, 2021. Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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The snow was falling and whipping around in gusts. In a season in which we really hadn't had much snow, it seemed like an omen.

"Guys, I think we should just go home."

Immediate howls of disapproval sounded from my backseat. The two girls in my car simply had to go to the town's first tree lighting. End of story.

I'd have no peace if I turned the car toward home, though in my bones that's what I wanted to do. December had just begun and already was off to a somewhat frantic pace. We'd spent precious few moments at home that day, and the next weekend looked to be — and would prove to be — even more hectic. Every weekend and many weekdays had something scheduled besides the normal work and school and farm necessities. Going home just a half an hour early, making supper and curling up in a chair seemed like a delightful idea.

A delightful idea, that is, unless you were a bright-eyed and eager 9- or 5-year-old girl, excited to be a part of something special, even with the wind and snow and sudden cold.

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We drove by the tree to be lit, a tall, somewhat sparse thing with some simple decorations. The backdrop was an old service station, long past its use as such. It was 20 minutes until show time and no one was around.

"Come on, guys. No one is here. Can't we just go home?"

I don't think the answers were in proper English, but the meaning was clear. No, we couldn't go home. And people would be there, just you watch.

And so we drove around town looking at lights until we realized that the cafe across the street from the tree was lit up. It hadn't been open on Saturdays of late. We found a group waiting for the event and the owner filling up the kids with hot chocolate.

When the time came, we shuffled outside. The crowd of all ages seemed like an abundance for our tiny town on such a blustery evening. We counted down and the colorful twinkle lights lit up the tree. It wasn't perfect. The songs we sang were probably a little off-key and out of tune. My hands were cold after giving my gloves to my younger daughter, who consistently loses her own.

But it was beautiful.

When I was a kid, we'd go to our city's Christmas parade. The first year I remember was a western theme, and everything seemed special and magical, and in all honesty, very simple. No year after ever lived up to that first memory. The floats became gaudier or more commercialized. Eventually, we quit going. And I think, eventually, I stopped looking for anything as pleasant as that first experience.

I felt a little of that joy at that tree lighting. Maybe it was the delight on my daughters' faces as they stood with their friends and sang at the top of their lungs. Maybe it was the feeling of familiarity and community in our small, comfortable town. Maybe it was just the plain simplicity of the event, a reminder that the first Christmas was pretty simple and ours do not have to be and perhaps shouldn't be glitzy, glamorous things.

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One of the organizers of the day's events told me they're planning to make the Christmas celebration an annual thing. I sincerely hope they do and that it remains a simple, laid-back event that brings people together. That's my favorite kind. And I'm sure my kids will make sure we're there.

May you all have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

To read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen columns, click here.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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