Kentucky farmwife Catherine Pond shares how lines from favorite carols are truly a part of her country Christmases.
Many of us were fortunate to grow up in the country, or live here now, or can’t wait to have a farm of our own. A country Christmas can be something we pine for. It is the stuff of many carols and stories.
Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads and the nostalgic wonder of downtown store fronts, there are cozy wood fires; trees, greens and berries galore to forage in our woods; and, if we’re lucky, snowy white fields to look out upon and enjoy for sledding, skiing, or sleighing. Our Christmases look like they’re right out of a Currier & Ives or Grandma Moses painting.
Here is a list, Santa-style with snippets from favorite Christmas carols, of what only country people can truly appreciate at the holidays:
In the meadow, you can build a snowman
Yes, you can build a snowman not only in your yard but out in the pasture. And one that the birds and other woodland creatures might also enjoy.
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
It used to be that sleighs would go through city streets, also, but in the country it is still possible to harness up a horse or two and have a ride through fields and forests. It’s rare these days but it still happens.
Away in the manger, no crib for his bed
Whatever your religion, it is always good to remember that Jesus was born in a rustic shed after his immigrant parents were turned away throughout Bethlehem. Barns are always welcoming and quiet places: safe, secure, warm.
A barn on the author's property reminds her of the story of Jesus's birth in a stable. / Photo courtesy of Catherine Pond
The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes
And don’t forget the animals! No country Christmas is complete without them. Our cattle don’t low so much during the winter but it’s always nice to know they are there. As a child I would sneak out from our farmhouse to the connected barn where our horses were, just to see if they would talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. (I promised I would never tell what they said.)
The cattle at the author's Kentucky Farm on a cold winter morning. / Courtesy of Catherine Pond
O the rising of the sun and the running of the deer
Yes, you are bound to see deer in your fields or side yard…or, as on our own farm a few years ago, helping Santa to deliver his presents.
Three deer take a walk in the snow at the author's pond. / Courtesy of Catherine Pond
In the bleak midwinter snow is falling snow on snow…snow on snow on snow
One of my favorite English Christmas carols describes the ultimate country Christmas. Piles of white, fluffy, snow that just keeps coming. The difference between the country and the city is that our snow generally stays white and lovely.
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky
As one of my favorite Appalachian carols describes, in the country you can always walk, and wonder, at any time of year. And the Christmas season, above all, can be a time of great wonderment.
Silent night, holy night: all is calm, all is bright
The other night I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and happened to see the full December moon setting in the west over our hay barn. I opened the door and the cold and radiant silence greeted me! There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a noise on the farm. The stars were brightly shining. I couldn’t help but think of some of the world’s most beautiful Christmas hymns.
Oh christmas tree, oh christmas tree!
In the country you can actually go out into the forest or the edge of your field to cut your own tree. And, while you are at it, deck your house with your own holly or mistletoe, too.
The author's son collects holly to "deck the halls" on their farm at Christmas. / Courtesy of Catherine Pond
Della Lutes described a simple country farm Christmas in her classic 1936 memoir, The Country Kitchen. The book was a bestseller during the height of the Great Depression because of its nostalgic musings and reassurance about the importance of the basic things—family, farm, home, nourishment. Stockings were filled with candy, apples, and oranges, and the family enjoyed a goose dinner with some of their neighbors. Then there were chores. After all, Christmas Day, like all others on a farm, still requires necessary tasks for dependent animals.
I can find no better writing than Lutes' memoir on the special qualities of life on a family farm on a dark winter’s day at Christmas:
“The dog jumped up to follow, barking. The horses, as we opened the door, neighed a throaty welcome and blew through their velvet nostrils. The cows gently mooed. The barn was warm with the breath of creatures dependent upon us for their comfort, and the musky sweetness of hay and grain.The light from the kitchen streams out, —a lovely light, —soft, lambent, and golden like a heavenly road to peace and safety. Here in the barn there is security. Storms can not enter. Nothing can harm us here, for my father is in charge. The animals trust him. I trust him. Back there in the kitchen is safety, too. Warmth, and light, and food—and Mother.”
As Gladys Taber wrote, the author of many farm and country-related books in her Stillmeadow series:
“My own recipe for world peace is a little bit of land for everyone.”
As a farmwife who often worries about the world from her own kitchen, I heartily agree.
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