A Farm Country Christmas
If you find today’s observance of Christmas to be an uncomfortable blend of a Broadway show and mass marketing, you’ll take great relief in the pages of A Farm Country Christmas, a newly released title by Voyageur Press.
Martha Stewart has her place. But it’s not here. A Farm Country Christmas celebrates simpler joys of the season: a tree cut in the timber, decorated with humble ornaments crafted by children; the sweet symbolism of farm chores on Christmas morning; the way generations once came together and celebrated a holiday, without benefit of TV or Nintendo.
Of all the holidays, Christmas wears the heaviest cloak of nostalgia. With the passing years, memory exaggerates; recollection grows more rich. The tales told in this collection of essays and short stories, however, keep us honest. A spirited selection of writers (Garrison Keillor, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Edma Lewis, Paul Engle, Bob Artley, Patricia Penton Leimbach) capture the very real essence of a country holiday, from the gummy, fragrant pitch left on hands that have carried a fresh-cut tree, to the twinkling crystal of newly-fallen snow on a moonlit winter night.
Some realities are harder to summon up than others. Christmas in the country was long a simple affair for no other reason than economics: times on the farm were often hard. Gifts were far from lavish, the ceremonial feast was rich with homegrown, home-canned and home-baked delights, and entertainment was as simple as a card game, a romp through the woods, storytelling by firelight. Irony abounds, even at Christmas. Today, of course, the standard of living has risen dramatically, but those simple pleasures of yesterday are nearly impossible to recapture.
The trappings of the holiday – homemade treats, Sunday School pageants, visits from Santa – are recalled in detail, but the undercurrent of the farm’s rhythym is unmistakeable. The holiday’s timing, in between harvest and planting, allows the menfolk the rare opportunity to take a bit of time off. The relentless demands of dairying seem not so much an intrusion on the holiday as an integral part of the celebration: “You sit there quiet in the dusk and lean your head in on the cow’s warm side and smell the hay and hear all the cuds being chewed in harmony, and you yourself make sounds like little bells of Christmas as you squirt the milk into the tin pail between your knees. The barn smells like Christmas. The cows fill it with their sweet breath. The snow lights up in the lantern light along the window sashes of the tie-up. You get to feeling the door might open any minute to the outside and let you see a host of angels singing …” -Robert P.T. Coffin, Recipe for Christmas.
If words don’t take you back, the photographs and illustrations in A Farm Country Christmas will. Rural scenery is captured in the sharp, clear colors of midwinter; black-and-white portraits from family celebrations decades ago deliver true vignettes; and vintage greeting cards show the sweet sentiments that never go out of style. Folk art paintings add a uniquely American touch to the book’s illustrations, telling a story as textured as any of those set down in word.
A Farm Country Christmas is like a drive down the back highways of America. You will not encounter the writers you’d find in mainstream holiday anthologies; you will not visit Rockefeller Center or great cathedrals or world-class malls. You will, however, revisit scenes from a simpler, sweeter time wrapped up in the magic that is Christmas. FC
A Farm Country Christmas, Amy Rost-Holtz, editor; Voyageur Press, 1999; ISBN 0-89658-440-2; 160 pages, hard cover.
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