Growing up on the edge of a small town along the Erie Canal in New York State was a privilege, I know now.
We had horses, dogs, barn cats, and even a pet raccoon for a while. Summers were fun, but winter, especially Christmas-time, was where lasting memories were made.
Christmas presents hold the strongest images of my early rural life: a new BB gun (decades before “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”), new chore boots, waterproof gloves, a pocket knife, and plenty of other useful items that city kids would never appreciate.
Memories unique to rural life
So what does a “Country Christmas” look, feel, and taste like? We collected some of country-focused holiday memories from many of AcreageLife’s regular contributors. You might find they mirror some of yours, as well.
Let’s begin with one of mine, from when I was about 8 years old:
My older sister, a teenager at the time of this memory, had a pony that foaled around Thanksgiving. On Christmas day my sister finished her barn chores and brought the foal—“Sassy,” a fitting name—INTO THE HOUSE! Sassy was barely halter-trained and had never been anywhere but the barn and the turnout paddock. I still remember the sound those young hooves made on our wooden floor. Well, all went fine as she was paraded from the kitchen to the living room. That is, until the foal started eating our Christmas tree! Apart from a few spilled ornaments there was no damage done, but that made for a Christmas morning I’ve never forgotten.
Here’s a heartfelt indelible memory from Carol J. Alexander, proving that anticipation of simple things is perhaps the strongest memory-builder:
When in second grade, our family drove to a nearby farm. While my siblings and I waited in the car, Mom and Dad went to talk to the farmer. Then, they loaded an old dilapidated dollhouse into the back of the station wagon. Mom said the farmer was paying her to remodel it for his little girl for Christmas. In the next several weeks, I’d rush home from the school bus every day to see the progress as it sat with all the supplies right in the middle of the kitchen table.
I wished it were for me and not some other little girl. Mom repainted everything and made new curtains and rugs. She used a razor blade to cut bricks on the chimney and fireplace and painted them to look real. She made a chandelier for the front porch and painted the porch ceiling robin’s egg blue just like my grandparents’. My dad created new window panes from plastic film.
Then, one day I came home and it was gone. I was so sad. But that sadness soon ended because on Christmas morning that very dollhouse sat under the tree with my name on it. It’s the best Christmas surprise I ever had.
Choosing the right tree
From Randy Schultz, who provides a fitting landscape-related memory:
My wife and I took our young son out into the woods to cut a Christmas tree. (We were on National Forest land, and we had the required permit.) My son, who was only four at the time, selected the “perfect” tree. I tried to talk him out of it, because it wasn’t really perfect. Instead of one strong spine running up the tree, this one had a trunk that had split to become two spines. But my son was sure this was the tree he wanted. I sawed it down and we took it home.
Unfortunately, when I was putting the tree in the stand, it split into two—just as I feared it might. We made a quick family decision and went to buy a tree at a local tree lot. This time I made sure my son picked out the “right” tree!
Just because you live in the country doesn’t mean you can’t have some of the latest conveniences, like a then brand-new microwave oven. To this day, Andy Schneider, aka The Chicken Whisperer, can’t forget what happened on one memorable Christmas day—this holiday fragrance wasn’t mulled spices or gentle pine…and it sticks with him to this day:
It was back in the early 1970s, and first-generation microwave ovens had just come out. My dad had one under the tree for my mom. Well, after opening all the gifts that morning, my dad proceeded to unbox the newest technology, and put it to the test. And like most dads on Christmas morning, who needs to read the directions, right?
Well, he proceeded to put an egg into the brand new microwave, and the rest is history. That egg exploded, and I can still smell that awful smell to this day that lingered in our home through New Year’s Day. YUCK!
Natalie Voss grew up in the suburbs—her loss—but she appreciates what being in the country can do for the soul, especially with her horse. After whirlwind visits to relatives for the Christmas holidays, she tries to carve out some “me time.”
I try to make a tradition of visiting my horse on New Year’s Eve for a midnight ride. The barn is quiet, and if we’re lucky the night is clear so we can see the stars. I usually swing up bareback and just have a walkabout on a loose rein. Occasionally we see fireworks, which my horse thankfully doesn’t mind. The fields are dark and still, and the barn is filled with the sounds of horses munching hay. It’s nice, in the midst of a busy holiday season, to take a moment for mindful peace and meditation as we prepare to begin a new year.
Enjoying nighttime in the country
Iowa-born Roz Corieri Paige remembers one year when she was chosen—due to her darker Italian looks—to play Mary in her parochial school’s Christmas play. Growing up in the Midwest, she was the only young girl who had the skin, hair, and eye color of a Middle Eastern young woman. “I didn’t realize at the time that it was an honor to be so unique and to be chosen to play Mary every Christmas,” Roz tells us.
The second memory is very secular and quite normal for a child. Growing up in Iowa, my parents would drive us through the winter snow every Christmas to spend the entire day with my cousins and my grandparents who lived in the country where the family farm was. On our way home late at night, driving through the dark and frosted windows of the car, I would look up in the dark midnight blue sky and try to see if I could find Santa Claus and his sleigh flying through the sky.
It was all very quiet and peaceful. Everything around me was blue and white with the stars and the moon glowing on the snow below. The snow just seemed to shimmer everywhere with Christmas tree lights reflecting on it. They were times of youthful innocence and wonder that I forever cherish.
Live in the moment in the barn
Finally, this is from an excerpt from Samantha Johnson’s Country Journal that we just couldn’t leave locked away. Here, Samantha makes her way on Christmas Day out to the barn, her favorite place:
Quiet begins to descend on the barn. We sweep the aisle and fill the water buckets, we rub velvety equine noses and distribute sugar cubes. Then we click off the radio and switch off the lights, one by one. And just before the door swings shut, we stop to simply listen and savor the moment. There is silence, with only the whispered sounds of the animals contentedly chewing hay, punctuated by the kind of occasional blissful sigh that horses love to make. Past and present seem to mingle as we recall the wonder of the miracle that occurred in a stable like this on a night long ago. Now, as then, the warm barn has enveloped the animals—and us—in what feels like a brief and glorious glimpse of heavenly peace.
Happy holidays to all.