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The cows can talk on Christmas

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If all your sister wants is a horse fanny pack for Christmas … you might be a farmer.

If your daughter’s favorite Christmas present was a plastic cabbage … you might be raising a farmer.

If your family Christmas card picture is with a cow … you might have been raised on a farm.

If you kick off Christmas morning by feeding the goats … you are definitely living on a farm!

Christmas time on the farm is a funny thing. You think that you only have four kids to shop for, but when each kid has their 4-H rabbits, horses, and goats, the Santa list can get a little out of hand!

Every parent has their own Christmas stories to tell their kids, whether their house is Santa’s first stop or last, whether he likes white milk or chocolate, or if he prefers frosted cookies over molasses!

For my family, Christmas wasn’t a time for tales. Christmas is a time where my whole family comes together for an evening. I have grown up on an old dairy farm, the farm where my dad and his siblings were raised. Although many of my family members don’t work in agriculture anymore, they still get excited to see the critters in the barn. Christmas is the yellow barn cat’s favorite time of the year!

My mom and all her sisters grew up on a tie-stall dairy farther north in St. Lawrence County, New York. It almost gets as cold up there as it does in the North Pole! Growing up, my grandfather told his kids that the cows could talk on Christmas. Was it a ploy to get them up early to milk before they could open gifts? Or perhaps it was his way of getting all his girls to help milk cows while not arguing with each other.

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Image by Arina P Habich, Shutterstock

I wondered what other stories farm parents told their kids about Christmas on the farm. While asking friends at school what their families did to coax a milking shift out of them before opening presents, I was surprised to learn that my mom was not the only one who was told that the cows can talk on Christmas.

Clement A. Miles, an author known for his Christmas books, wrote that Christmas was the day that animals could talk, but they would plot the death of their neglectful owners. Miles also told a German tale telling that those who heard the animals talk were soon to die. He tells a story about a servant sneaking into the barn to listen to the horses speak, they discussed a “heavy workload coming up next week,” which happened to be the week the servant died, he had a horse drawn casket, of course.

But that doesn’t sound very Christmas-like to me. My grandfather was a lifelong dairyman with a big piece of his heart carved out for his herd. He couldn’t imagine the cows scheming anything at all. My grandfather was a devout poet, and I think that his explanation of why the cows talk on Christmas is the most fitting.

My grandfather wrote “Now I’ve heard it said, but I’ve never seen, the animals party — remember, it was them who witnessed the scene. The words that are said don’t mean any harm, because no matter what, He was born in a barn.” The barnyard critters have a party on Christmas too, to remember that Jesus was born in a barn.

Other popular tales are that the reindeer take a quick nap in the barn of their last stop, so if you sneak in the barn early enough you might catch a glimpse of them. Perhaps you have found “reindeer poop” in the snow outside your bedroom window on Christmas morning. Maybe Christmas is a time where the whole family starts the day off by doing the chores together. Whatever your traditions and tales may be, nothing beats Christmastime on the farm.


Elizabeth Maslyn is a Cornell University student pursuing a career in the dairy industry. Her passion for agriculture has driven her desire to learn more, and let the voices of our farmers be heard.

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