by Dennis Dalman
An antique, straw-filled, wooden bread bowl serves as the cradle for baby Jesus. Children gather near, dressed up as Mary, Joseph, an angel, a shepherd and a donkey.
The manger scene takes place in a very old dairy barn near St. Joseph.
The seventh annual “Christmas in a Barn” will take place at the Chad and Amy Leither farmstead near St. Joseph at 7 p.m. on two evenings – Monday, Dec. 23 and Tuesday, Dec. 24.
Everyone is welcome to attend the free ceremonies.
The old-fashioned, rustic, humble Christmas ceremony, which annually attracts 250 to 300 people, is an experience that offers a narration of the Christmas story, along with Christmas songs sung a cappella, hot cider and the shimmering beauty of many ice candles.
Amy Leither said the tradition began many years ago at Peace Lutheran Church in Cold Spring. One day, the pastor suggested holding the ceremony in a barn to evoke an old-fashioned stable ambiance, like in the Christmas nativity story. Leither and her husband agreed to try the service in the old, unused, dirt-floor dairy barn on their property.
“There are big posts inside the barn holding up the haymow,” Amy said. “And there are old hay bales at one end. “We’ve had the service here for five years, and people enjoy it.”
Amy reads the nativity narration, a version written from the viewpoint of Mary and Joseph. Pastor Mark Astrup of Peace Lutheran Church reads a message designed for the children present.
The Leither children (Hannah, Jennie, John, Daniel) and their neighbor friends act as Mary, Joseph and other visitors to the manger.
The baby Jesus is one of the girls’ dolls.
Chad helps out, too, snowblowing a path to the barn for visitors and other helpful chores. Other helpers include lots of volunteers from the church.
“It’s a kind of small barn, so we’ve never had real animals at the scene,” Amy said. “But this time we’re going to try to have a goat and donkey outside by the entrance to the barn.”
The event has grown by leaps and bounds since the Leithers first began sponsoring it in their barn.
“As the service begins and we’re all nestled together in the barn, there is a connection with everyone, like we’re one big family,” Amy said. “We’ve had complete strangers stop us and tell us how much the service has meant to them. That’s what it’s all about.”
Visitors to the service are encouraged to dress warm and to bring blankets if the weather turns colder.
The Leither property is located four miles south of St. Joseph on CR 2, toward Cold Spring, right before Jacob’s Prairie.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.