No matter what you celebrate this time of year, there's nothing quite like enjoying the holidays amidst a rural backdrop. Farmwife Catherine Pond, shares 12 ways country living brings a special meaning to the holiday season.
No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, there are many things that unite those fortunate enough to experience Christmas in the country.
Perhaps it is the seasonal awareness of living on a farm or the Currier & Ives associations with rural life, but Christmas in our rural realm, no matter where we live in the United States, offers us so much. I have lived in a city, a small New England village, and on farms—and farm Christmases are the best.
Country Christmases, by necessity, were always more simple due to daily farm chores (which don’t take a holiday) and smaller budgets with which to spend.
Far removed from any cloying commercialism, but now with the ease of regular mail order deliveries if desired, country Christmases are a chance to truly appreciate where we are living and to celebrate the season.
So here’s a list — and some links — to country Christmas icons that seem universal no matter where your “rural” might be.
When we first moved to Kentucky (from that perfect New Hampshire village — I mean, right out of a postcard kind of perfect) we were surprised to discover three separate country Baptist churches on our small ridge (of just over two-hundred people) didn’t offer Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services, unless either happens to fall on a Sunday or Wednesday.
Even then, Christmas Eve or Day is often reserved for home and family and the day is honored in church ahead of time. For some reason I had visions of Pa Walton stumbling into a small country church when he was stranded in mountain snow on Christmas Eve in The Homecoming.
I can’t have Christmas, wherever I am, without carols and traditional Christmas music. One of my favorites has always been “I Wonder Where I Wander” by Kentuckian John Jacob Niles.
Years later, I would learn that he was from Kentucky and wrote this about an Appalachian Christmas in the mountains, inspired by the first three lines sung to him by a young girl in North Carolina in 1933.
The simple but haunting melody brings me back to hearing Ed Ames sing it on the hi-fi, with my parents preparing Christmas for us in the background. Have a listen to his beautiful rendition here or to a more modern, and perhaps more apt, Celtic-inspired and mystical rendition by Audrey Assad here:
“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you, and like I:
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.”
And for more on Christmas carols in the country, click here.
Cooking & Baking
This, to me, is the heart of the holidays.
Whether it is baking cookies with the kids, or fragrant loaves of banana bread or cranberry orange bread for friends and neighbors; or planning the roast beef dinner for Christmas with Yorkshire pudding, and oyster stew and loads of appetizers for New Year’s.
My mother started a tradition with one of her friends when we were children: they’d bake roll-out sugar cookies in festive cookie-cutter shapes and have them ready for us to frost and decorate. I’ve tried to do this through the years but it’s never too late to begin again — even with older kids or friends!
If you’re more adventurous, try a gingerbread house-making session. One recipe I’ve lost, but know it is here somewhere, is a German rollout ginger cookie: crisp and spicy, it was a family recipe made with molasses and lard, with currants for eyes on the Santas and reindeer. I used to make them and send to my father at Christmas and he always said it was like opening a box of his childhood.
Some of our best memories are food-related or made right in the kitchen.
Correspondence & Christmas Cards
To me receiving and sending cards at the holidays is the best tonic for our modern email-and-social-media-focused times.
If December is too crazed, consider a New Year’s card instead (and yes, you have all of January to get them out!).
Nowadays, and with the kids beyond the family photo-with-outfits phase, I am more lax about it but strewing cards received on ribbons around the house is a tradition I’ve often borrowed from England.
My mother used to save her favorites and decoupage them onto boards. But these beautiful tokens are reminders of the love we share for others and our remembrance through the years. I hope it is a tradition that won’t die.
Farm Animals and Others
We can’t forget our furry and feathered friends! As a child I would go out to our barn on return from our Christmas Eve service, and wait for the ponies to speak at midnight. They never did but they would certainly get an extra pail of grain on Christmas day.
Here in Kentucky, our bull Edgar was born on my husband’s birthday, December 28, and we always celebrate with him (guardedly, of course).
And don’t forget to feed the birds!
Family, Friends & Neighbors
“By the middle of the month, the house is filled with Christmas. And everything about Christmas is exciting to me. I love the smells — the pine branches we bring in from the woods, snowy and cold, give forth the most heavenly fragrance, and there is the smell of freshly baked Christmas cookies and fruit cake, and a whiff of spring from the apple logs in the fire.
But the best thing of all is that it is the time of friends remembering one another, families gathering together, a time when people open their hearts. It is the time when one can be sentimental and not hide it.” — Gladys Taber
Christmas can be lonely for some, and difficult, too, and I always try to remember that. So I don’t go down my own rabbit hole of sorrow and sentiment for Christmases Past, it’s always heartwarming to make and deliver goodies to friends and neighbors. I try to find the time to do that — if not in December then in January.
And remember, there are twelve days of Christmas! As for family, whether here or elsewhere or long passed, they are always in my heart.
“From the smallest little card which says ‘Merry Christmas’ to the most expensive present that can be bought, the meaning of Christmas comes to us all. And the greatest gifts are the intangible ones, purchased by the spirit and not by coins. These we may freely spend and have no budget. They may be the thoughtful errand the neighbor runs, or the driveway shoveled out by a friend. Or letters of friendship. A bit of sewing for someone who cannot run up a dish towel. Any loving deed or word, this is the magic of Christmas!” — Gladys Taber
Over the years as the kids have grown, this ritual has gotten simpler. But there is still the wrapping, and hiding and the gleeful opening on Christmas Day — and one day there will likely be a few grandchildren to start the cycle all again.
This year, my best gift will be the return home of our oldest son who can’t be here until New Year’s Eve. Then we will celebrate both holidays at once, open presents and enjoy the company of each other — and all of that prepared food.
Let There Be Light!
The Winter Solstice brings the longest night of the year and then, slowly and minute by minute, the days lengthen again.
It is important to have firelight: in candles, in an outdoor fire circle, in a fireplace if you have one.
Savor the light during the day and know that it will return again. I actually like the gradual darkening of the year and welcome it. A time to be indoors more often, at times more reflective, with no worries about watering a garden and only needing to tend the animals in our care.
Mistletoe and Other Natural Decorations
“Aunt Vestula decorated our house for the holidays with the same ritualistic fever as when she cooked. She would get my daddy to cut a perfect, cone shaped cedar tree and bring it into the living room. First she placed a whisper full of cotton near the base of each branch. Nobody else in Filbert, South Carolina, put their cotton on the tree that way...Next she went outdoors and gathered small branches from other cedar trees, choosing those that are the most dusty silvery — blue cedar berries. She would tied little branches onto the tree, along with pinecones and some sprigs of holly with glassy, spiky leaves and bright red berries. Then she would take short links of old, used lace — never longer than a yard — and drape them over a few branches.” — Dori Sanders
The best Christmas decorations are in nature. Here in Kentucky we have an abundance of wild mistletoe, holly, cedar boughs and other things found around the farm. The lore of mistletoe is fascinating and you can read more about it here.
One of my mother’s favorite gifts through the years was a Maine guide pack basket that she could wear on her back to gather natural forest treasures behind our New Hampshire farm. Whenever I think of the woods I think of my mother on her walks with her beloved dogs through the pinewoods, at any time of year.
“We planted 500 Christmas trees a few years ago, on the slope beyond the meadow. But I don’t know whether we shall ever cut them, even if they grow big enough in our time. The theory is that you cut them on a planned basis, and they keep on developing. But a whole stand of Christmas trees will be so lovely to look at! For after all, no tree can be better decorated then with pure drifts of dazzling snow.” — Gladys Taber
In our first Christmas on our Kentucky farm, our youngest son (and always our most spirited Christmas elf) got upset at the idea of going out and cutting down our own cedar tree. “They’re not Christmas tree-shaped!” he said, being used to the traditional balsam or fir tree.
So we resigned ourselves to heading to the nearest big box store and selecting just the “right” one.
This year, and with that youngest “elf” in college, he is resolved that we go to our local Christmas tree farm to select the perfect tree.
It might be frightful at times but all the more reason to hunker in and enjoy a warm, cozy house — after chores are done, of course. Southern Christmases rarely have snow but we’ve been lucky in Kentucky to have a few.
“There’s beauty in the gray days of December...but it’s a soft, relaxing gray. Night falls early in the gray month, but the countryman looks forward to the long evenings. With a crackling fire in the stove, a dish of juicy apples and a favorite farm paper, the gray month has compensations.”— Hayden S. Pearson
Peace On Earth, Good Will to All!
May your days be merry and bright, your holidays joyous and your New Year prosperous and peaceful! Here’s to country living and all that it brings us — in any season of the year.
Did we forget something? What are your country Christmas traditions or favorite seasonal inspirations? Please share them in the comments below.