Some of my earliest memories of Christmas include exhaustion.

When I was very young, families would gather at church late on Christmas Eve for a midnight singing. That was far later than most of the kids’ normal bedtimes, and it didn’t take us long to crash.

That might have been part of the plan — get the kids so tired they fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows and sleep late on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, that never worked for me. I was always too excited.

The anticipation of discovering what would appear beneath our tree made Christmas Eve the longest and most stressful night of the year. The tossing and turning. The mental calculus of determining at what time of night I could sneak out of my room to peek under the tree without getting in trouble or, worse, scaring Santa away from our house. The utter exhaustion yet complete inability to sleep. I don’t think I slept on a Christmas Eve from the time I was a toddler until I was at least 16 years old.

Of course, finally coming out of the room around 5:30 a.m. to play with the new toys was certainly a joy. Santa never wrapped our gifts, a kindness for our parents allowing them to sleep while my sisters and I happily played. The alternative would have been excited kids jumping on their bed before dawn and demanding their presence in the living room to open presents.

The real joy of Christmas, however, came later that evening. The entire family would gather in my grandparents’ home. My father had five siblings, so as you might imagine, I had a lot of cousins to play with. All of us kids brought our favorite new toys to show off and grudgingly share.

The kids ran back and forth, darting between the adults who struggled to find enough places to sit. Occasionally, an uncle would snatch a kid running by and put him or her in a headlock and casually continue his conversation with the adults as the kid laughed and struggled to escape. Kids would also line up to take their turns with my grandfather, who would bounce us on his knee to the rhyme “Buster Brown Went to Town.” We never got tired of that.

Some of the kids would write a short play and perform it for the adults. At some point during the rehearsals, my grandfather would get down on his hands and knees, protrude his lower dentures from his mouth, and pretend to be a monster named Mortimer Snerd from whom we could never escape, no matter how slowly and ominously he crawled toward us. We loved it. (I learned much later that Mortimer Snerd was actually a popular puppet character created and performed by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen in the 1930s.)

The amount of food in the house was obscene, and we enjoyed it immensely. After we ate, we would all sing Christmas carols and hymns and swap gifts. You’d think that’d be enough excitement and fun for one family gathering. You’d be wrong. Instead, we all went outside and shot bottle rockets and Roman candles. We ran and played with sparklers and lit firecrackers.

It was usually well after midnight that we finally crawled into bed with stuffed bellies and jaw muscles aching from too much smiling and laughing.

Those were some of the best memories of my life, and I can think of no better wish than for you to have a similarly exhausting and very merry Farm Country Christmas.

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