Between the Rows: Traditional Christmas

Published online: Dec 14, 2021 Articles, Between the Rows
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This column appears in the December 2016 issue of Potato Grower.

December is finally here, which means people will stop shooting confused and/or condescending looks my way when they catch me humming Christmas carols. I know everyone’s rule of thumb when it comes to harmonic holiday cheer is somewhere along the lines of “No Christmas music until after Thanksgiving,” but I’m just never able to help myself. The year’s first consecutive frosty mornings, which usually arrive in the first half of October, awaken something in me, and it comes out in the form of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”  

Before long, I’m sneaking a Bing Crosby Christmas album into the old CD player we still have in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good, long autumn, with bright, crisp mornings and vibrantly colored trees. But with the first hint of snow up in the mountains, visions of a white Christmas start dancing in my head. By the time Halloween rolls around, I’m in full agreement with Angela Lansbury’s melodic demand that we need a little Christmas…now.

Look, if you’re a purist and staunchly abstain from Yuletide anthems until a certain date, I get it. You probably do Christmas that way because that’s the way your parents did it, and their parents before them. Strictly sticking to the holiday calendar likely enhances your appreciation of this time of year as being special, even sacred. I love and respect that. After all, even amid all the superfluous trappings and commercialization that surround the holiday season, there is perhaps nothing in America that remains more steeped in wholesome tradition than Christmas.

It’s fun for me to ask around and learn about other families’ Christmas traditions. Each little custom comes with its own set of memories and feelings, and each holds importance to different individuals for different reasons. It’s been a bit of an adventure for my wife and me in the years we’ve been married to incorporate and tweak, when necessary, various traditions from both sides of our family.

For example, for as long as anyone can remember, my in-laws have spent the last hours of Christmas Eve gathered around the TV watching the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s about as true to Dickens’s classic as you can expect a film to be to its parent material, and Scott is the quintessential Scrooge. The first Christmas Eve my wife and I spent in our own home, I surprised her with a copy of the movie, and we happily watched it.

Even amid all the trappings and commercialization that surround the holiday season, there is perhaps nothing that remains more steeped in wholesome tradition than Christmas.

Over the years, though, that tradition has evolved in the Marchant household. A Christmas Carol is one of the finest bits of literature ever put to paper, but, honestly, most of it is a little dark. So a couple years back, we performed a test run of The Muppet Christmas Carol, and it has proven a hit. Michael Caine puts up a worthy fight to old George C. for the title of Scrooge-iest Scrooge, and Gonzo, Kermit and the gang deliver family-friendly humor and a few songs that should make it onto any Christmas playlist. The George C. Scott version still gets viewed at least once every December, but the Muppets now own Christmas Eve.

Many other traditions have required no tweaking. Four books are required December reading in the Marchant home: Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. A real tree is set up in the living room the first Monday after Thanksgiving with a zillion multicolored lights and a growing assortment of ornaments. The aromas of gingerbread men and pineapple kuchen permeate the house. And, of course, the Nativity story is read from the second chapter of Luke.  

Additional traditions have grown organically based on where we live, such as our annual five-mile pilgrimage to the local museum to admire hundreds of Nativity sets gathered from all over the world.

Few people understand the value of tradition better than those who make a living growing the food that feeds the world. Much like our holiday habits, the lifestyle led by potato growers and other ag folk is heavily influenced by generations of tradition. I don’t think every farmer farms simply because it’s what his or her parents did. But I do believe much of the love for the land and crops such an occupation requires is genetic. Keeping a family farm or ranch going is often dirty, painful, high-stress, demoralizing work, and sometimes legacy and tradition are all you have to lean on.

Sticking to tradition for tradition’s sake can indeed prove foolish and impede progress. Sometimes things need to be changed up. But many traditions, though perhaps lacking in tangible rewards, have very real power and should be protected and cherished. You know, the ones that bring peace on earth and goodwill toward man.

Merry Christmas.