December 16 An Old Feed Trough


This is chapter 16 from my short story book, Christmas Jelly

An Old Feed Trough


When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.

– “I Wonder as I Wander”


The old barn looks snakey.

You may not realize snakey is an adjective. It can mean “overrun with snakes.”

In our area of the South, it refers to any place where you expect to find snakes such as “don’t put your hand in there, it looks snakey.”

My pawpaw’s old barn has a broken-in roof, rotten walls, and thick spider webs that may be the only things holding it together.

And it’s been empty for thirty years.

During my boyhood, it was full of animals. Two plow horses named Sam and Dallas, calves, woods hogs, and scurrying chickens.

Now it’s dark, damp, and lonely.

It’s a clear cold day before Christmas. They kind of day PawPaw would’ve called “hog butchering weather.”

I’m on a strange mission. I’m looking for a feed trough.

Yesterday I read Luke 2 on the birth of Jesus. I’ve read and heard the story hundreds of times, but always learn something new about the greatest night in the history of Planet Earth.

Everything about that night was humble.

The first to learn of the Savior’s birth were shepherds, the outcasts of Jewish society. One more reminder that Jesus’ bond was, and continues to be among the common people of the world.

It is amazing that the most educated, wealthiest, and powerful have a hard time with Jesus as the Son of God. Throughout, the two thousand years since that Bethlehem night, He has most often found the biggest welcome among the simple and common people of this world.

Folks like you and me.

God could have provided any place for the birth of His Son, but he chose an old barn.

No fanfare.

No luxury.

That name Emmanuel—God with us—was lived out that night.

It’s astounding that his parents wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger.

It’s a shame how we’ve cleaned up and sanitized the manger. A manger is nothing but a fancy term for an old feed trough. The very place where a few hours earlier, a donkey, horse, or sheep had been eating and slobbering.

That’s why I’m at PawPaw’s old barn today. I’ve come to get a feed trough.

The trough I find is rough, weathered, and filled with rotten hay and trash. It’s been the home for my sister’s cat.

Well-used feel troughs always have a smell of feed. They are wet from the saliva of a hungry animal. The edges are chewed down from animals trying to get that last kernel of grain.

I begin pulling the trough from the stall wall. It comes loose except for one stubborn rusty nail. After several tries, I grab hold with both hands and jerk.

The nail comes out, the trough comes loose, and I unceremoniously fall hard on my butt. I’m lying there with the trough in my hands.

I have to laugh. I’m unhurt, lying in a puddle of rainwater that still smells of manure.

I carry the prized trough under my arm. At the barn entrance, I stop and look around. Remembering how a live barn is: the smells of wet animals. The noise, the cramped surroundings.

My friends who have been to the Holy Land tell about the small caves that serve as barns. It is probably in that cramped, noisy, nasty environment that Jesus was born.

The greatest story ever told . . . and the official opening act begins in a dark humble barn.

The King of Kings, to be worshipped by millions forever, is first laid in a well-used feed trough.

Then I think of the unique teachings of Jesus, the God-Man.

I have come to give my life.

The first shall be last . . .

Whatever you have done unto the least of these.

I load the feed trough in the truck, silently thanking God for teaching me new lessons this Christmas season.

Lessons of humility

Lessons of service.

Lessons of giving.


I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

"Christmas Jelly" is a collection of short stories by Louisiana author Curt Iles. Learn more at
“Christmas Jelly” is a collection of short stories by Louisiana author Curt Iles. Learn more at


  1. So many times, when I read Curt’s’ writing, I am taken back to not his memories, but my own. In the movie, Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones speaks of an experience where the memories are so thick, you have to almost swat them away with your hand. I very much appreciate this post, Curt. Thank you.

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