While Christmas Day is a special day for our family, it’s also a day like most others. We still need to check the sheep, feed the guard dogs, gather the eggs – in short, the chores still have to get done. For me, my chores as a shepherd take on a different feeling – indeed, a different significance – on Christmas Day.
Generally, our chores get done a bit later on Christmas. We’re up just as early, but mostly because we’re all curious to see what Santa Claus brought for us. After opening our gifts and enjoying a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, the girls and I head out to care for the animals. Our home chores – feeding and watering the horses and chickens (and any random sheep that happen to be at home) – go quickly. Then we load the border collies into the truck and head off to check the sheep at our rented pastures.
Because it’s Christmas morning, we’re usually the only folks on the road, which makes the drive enjoyable. I most notice the lack of traffic in the solitude and quiet that greets us at the ranch. Usually, the only sounds we here are the birds, the livestock, and maybe an occasional neighbor kid playing with a new toy (rather than the distant traffic we usually hear). Since we try to do most of the significant work in the days leading up to Christmas, our Christmas chores generally consist of feeding the guard dogs and walking through the sheep to make certain they’re all healthy.
Shepherding is usually a solitary endeavor that provides time (if I’ll take it) for contemplation. Perhaps the extraordinary quiet of Christmas, combined with the significance of shepherds in the Christmas story, make Christmas chores an especially contemplative time for me. I find the quiet and slower pace of Christmas Day comforting. On a normal day, I’m rushing to complete one task so that I can move onto the next one; on Christmas Day, I find that I get to enjoy the chores before me, rather than worrying about the work to come. I also find myself thinking about the generations of shepherds that have lived before my time, and I wonder what they experienced and thought about on cold days near the winter solstice. Despite the challenges of the life I’ve chosen, Christmas Day chores always remind me of how lucky I am to be working with animals, to be working outdoors, and to be working with my family.