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Baby in the Barn – The Story



For years and years, we’d return from our Thanksgiving up north with a Christmas tree, courtesy of Uncle Ray. I never like the tree-on-the-car-roof routine, but Christi simply had to have an Island tree. It got a little simpler when said trees began appearing in a Chicago lot, courtesy of Daniel Nerenhausen, and I’d shoot down there and back to Milwaukee in a few hours. It was on one such trip home on I-94, when the radio played yet another terrible Christmas (think of something like Dean Martin on “Jingle Bell Rock”) that I said to myself, “Self, you should be able to write a Christmas song better that that.” So, without ever stopping, I wrote down the start of a lyric on a small pad of paper.

I definitely do NOT endorse writing while driving, especially at 75 mph. But I’d learned that if not written down immediately, that perfect rhyme or catchy meter will be tragically forgotten before you get the chance to preserve the thought. So, scratching the nearly illegible words on a notepad balanced on the steering wheel, my version of the Nativity took shape. Oddly, nearly every line that tumbled out had an internal rhyme that fit.

I knew that a rural girl would know that a stable full of animals would offer warmth on a winter night. And if some versions of this story had been a bit embellished over the years, I could surely take a little leeway, too. So I had her remember back to “… her nights on a small milking stool, way back at the old family farm, how in the clear, moonless skies how the steam would arise / from the roof of that ramshackle barn.”

I got home in once piece, but the song didn’t. How to end it? I’d started the first verse more or less decrying the modern commercialization of Christmas, and wondering “…what this all has to do / With a baby in the barn.” So in the final verse I skipped back to present day, once again lamenting our inability to get to the true meaning of all this.

We had just seen the bombing of Iraq intensify and the casualties mounting, The last verse speaks of us marching off to war, which humans seem to do over and over again, “…and I fear we may never get it right.” But, since I didn’t want to end on a sour note, I simply concluded saying “go ahead and enjoy, but don’t forget what that “Baby in the Barn” was all about.”

The next day happened to be the children’s Christmas “pageant” at church, and I had agreed to play a tune, so I unveiled “Baby” and folks loved it. It became a sort of tradition there each year. Once, I got a letter from a woman who had heard it and asked my permission to arrange it for her own church’s choir – “as long as we can leave out all that war business at the end.” Permission denied, I told her; you missed the point.


The Baby in the Barn


People running around with their ears to the ground

For a bargain or something to wear

Decorations abound, crystal ornaments found

And the music is piped in everywhere

Now I’m not immune to a caroling tune

And I know that it can’t do any harm

But I can’t understand what this all has to do

With a baby in the barn


Back in old Palestine in a far away time

A young girl was trudging through the cold

She was hungry and cold, so the story is cold

And as the night fell she had no play to go

She remembered the nights on a small milking stool

Way back at the old family farm

How in the clear moonless skies the steam would arise

From the roof of that ramshackle barn


So she slipped through the door, made a bed on the floor

It was warm, it was shelter from the storm

And in no time at all on the hay in that stall

The young boy she’d waited for was born

Now some say there were angels singing in the sky

And some say they saw a shooting star

We don’t know, we never will, but we speak of Him still

That baby in the barn


As the years fade away looking back to that day

It all seems so innocent and light

But just like before we still march off to war

And I fear we may never get it right

May you dance, may you sing

May your Christmas bells ring

And be filled with the holiday charm

But be humbled by thoughts of this Child in the cold

The Baby in the Barn


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