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Christmas past is a lot of hard work

December 22, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

As Christmas rapidly approaches, your mind often drifts back in time thanks in no small part to movies like "White Christmas," "Holiday Inn," "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "A Christmas Carol." We all long for a simpler time when the holiday season didn't seem so hurried.

If you, like me, are a fan of such movies, you long for a sleigh ride, a hearth-cooked meal or a Christmas goose. What you forget is all the work involved in such endeavors. Let's take the sleigh ride, for example. The horse has to be cared for 365 days a year, which includes feeding and mucking stalls. No need to exercise the horse, as he will be pulling a wagon or cart when there is no snow on the ground. Next, there is the hoof care, picking hooves and making sure the horse is well-shod.

The sleigh also needs to be maintained -- a good shellacking of the wood and oiling of the leather would be routine. Next, the harnesses need to be cleaned and oiled. Tired yet?

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Now let's think about that hearth-cooked meal. The work starts outside first with the splitting and hauling of wood.

Remember, up until about 100 years ago, people produced the majority of their own food. So there is the growing and care of the foodstuffs, be they plant or animal.

For the plants, there is the preparing of the soil and planting in the spring, the care and weeding in the summer, and harvesting in the summer and fall. Oh yeah, and the storage. Are we canning, drying or, in more modern times, freezing this bounty? Root crops such as potatoes, carrots and turnips can be stored in the root cellar.

The cows have to be fed and milked, the pigs and chickens fed every day. Then there's the harvest, which, for pork and chicken, is different from picking tomatoes.

It is certainly not my objective to take the luster out of these memories, but to put them in perspective. The bright spot in all this work is that no one toiled in isolation. Many times the work was fun thanks to the camaraderie.

Goose was the traditional English Christmas bird for almost 300 years. It became associated with the celebration because Queen Elizabeth I was feasting on goose at Greenwich Palace on Christmas Eve 1588, when news was brought to her of the destruction of the Spanish Armada. She decreed that from then on, roast goose should be served at Christmas.

Whether you long for Christmas past or Christmas present, merry Christmas to you and yours.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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