There’s something about the phrase “Christmas at the farm” that still captures the imagination.
I see it every time I tell someone our holiday plans. They get a nostalgic look in their eyes even though some have never experienced it. It seems like everyone has a picture of what that would look and feel like and to most of them, that sounds pretty darned nice and something they’d love to experience.
In part, I suspect it’s because they have the romantic image of the farm of yesterday firmly fixed in their minds. As we all know, that small mixed farm of yesterday is largely consigned to the pages of history, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the charms of visiting the farm this time of year.
In fact in the ways that count, they’re quite right. After all, it’s always great to get away from it all and unplug for a few days. Our farm is more than 10 miles from the nearest town, so it’s always quiet and peaceful. To me, that means no traffic, and maybe a chance to go for a snowmobile ride or snowshoeing.
To the younger generation there are, of course, the twin attractions of grandma and grandpa. Even an old crank like me gets a bit nostalgic watching my daughter bake sugar cookies and go ice fishing with them.
In our family, the farm is still very much everyone’s spiritual home, so we gather from far and wide when we have a chance. The celebrations over the years have waxed and waned as kids got older, moved away, then started having kids themselves. Suddenly they find the trip back to their roots becomes more important.
It obviously doesn’t happen every year, but we can still occasionally expect to see the cousins of my generation show up, from destinations like Calgary and Vancouver. Sometimes however, that gathering of the clan can shatter the peace.
As regular readers of this page will no doubt have concluded, I am a man of strong opinions. That I can assure you, did not appear out of thin air. Our dinner table has, more than once, been the scene of vigorous political debate, especially as I found myself in my early 20s and holding opinions my father didn’t necessarily sign off on. I strongly suspect my growing small ‘C’ fiscal conservatism warms his heart these days, but of course he’s too much of a gentleman to say anything.
That Christmas dinner table has also been where new family members have been introduced over the years. It was there I first met people who are now family stalwarts like my cousin’s husband and a favourite aunt’s new husband (who despite his background in construction, not agriculture, has become one of my most faithful readers). It is at events like this that the family circle is widened just a bit.
Along with the people are the traditions that also make these annual events special. I still recall going out into the bush with my dad to cut a Christmas tree every year — one of the very clear benefits of our remote location. I also remember chopping ice ever year from the dugout to make ice cream, always from fresh cream from a nearby neighbour. How the French-Canadian meat pie tourtiere came to be a feature of our Scottish-Swedish family’s table has always been a bit unclear, but I’ve strongly suspected the answer lays in the curling rink of the nearby French community of Zenon Park.
For my now-departed grandmother, the faith aspect of the holiday was very important. For many years following leaving the farm, I would accompany her to the Christmas Eve service in our nearby town. It might not have been something I’d have done on my own, but it became an annual ritual itself, and I came to really like it. It was an annual check-in with a community that, due to my departure first for school and then for work, I wasn’t really a part of anymore. Not that you’d know it from the way I was enthusiastically greeted by everyone each and every year.
It’s also always interesting to see who else has come home for Christmas when I go to town. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a catch-up visit with a high school classmate in the aisles of the local co-op store in the day or two before the actual holiday. It would seem, like salmon swimming upstream to return to their spawning grounds, many of us feel a powerful pull towards home in the holiday season.
None of these things are special in and of themselves. I’m sure there are thousands of people who could tell very similar stories of their own connection to the farm. But to me and my family they are very special, as those similar stories are special to those folks.
While the road to the farm is a long one — about an eight-hour one-way drive in my case — it will always be worth it.