The truth is, the miracle is that it happens at all, that somehow we manage to lay down the layers of ritual, or vestiges of these, that make Christmas our family's favorite holiday.
This year, as we are deep in product launching and workshop teaching and business planning, I decided we should add another element: Christmas morning chicks! Because who wouldn't want to be mixing up reindeer chow and cookies for Santa while monkeying with heat lamps and chick starter? Why wouldn't we choose to be checking for pasty chicks while stuffing stockings?
I set 15 eggs in an incubator on Dec 3. A chick takes about 21 days, though I had one Silkie named "Miracle" two summers ago who took all the way until day 26/27 to chip her way out. I set ten Silkie and Silkie-Polish crosses from our rooster who recently lost a battle with a fox, and I took in five large brown eggs for a friend who wasn't even sure they were fertile. Twitchy with anticipation, I made a little calendar, and with X's and O's to cross off until Christmas eve.
I've rewarded broody mamas with December eggs before, and let anyone who wants to hatch anything hatch it, but this is my first rodeo with an incubator. I got a little obsessive with the über-sensitive laser temperature gun, and panicked that the settings weren't right, when eggs in the same batch would read anywhere from 86-112 degrees. So when a friend offered me a broody Silkie on long term to set a clutch under, I jumped at the chance.
Driving home from the horse barn, I followed her text instructions, popped open a coop, and pulled out Boq, a black Silkie who had been faithfully sitting on nothing for weeks. I held the sweet little mama on my lap for the short ride across town, where I slipped her into a nesting box, brought her my five best from the day 3 candling, and went about my day.
That night, when the rest of the girls went up to bed, I checked in on her. All seemed well. She was sitting OVER the eggs, not exactly brooding, but close enough, watching her new roommates bicker about who was sleeping where. All seemed well.
But in the morning, she sauntered out with the rest of the crew, delighted with some frosty free-range grass, and she didn't go back to the eggs. When I felt them, to my horror, they were cold.
So everyone went back in the incubator. Will a night in the cold December air, under a lukewarm foster mama be enough to stop the embryos that were developing? Will my obsessive candling, gentle daily turning, heat and humidity monitoring be close enough to a hovering avian mother to inspire the others to continue on this path?
Piper asked me the other day if I believe in Santa. She's right on the cusp of intellectual awareness and fantasy, and the baby of the family, our last believer. I looked around. Our stockings are hung. Our tree is up. A dear friend who was told she was well into menopause is expecting a baby boy in a handful of days--we can't wait to meet this miracle. And we have a styrofoam box in the downstairs bathroom with 15 eggs incubating. I told her simply, "Of course I believe in the magic of Christmas."
The other night, coming home after an adorable holiday dance recital watching my nieces, holding 15-month-old nephew Dubbs against my chest as he lolled near sleep, I snuck in to check the incubator again, and counted heartbeat after heartbeat inside eggshells. Magic. Miracles. What's not to believe?