Jeff Semler: A look at Christmas down on the farm

December 20, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER |
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Well, there are just five shopping days left until Christmas, counting today.

I hope you are ready. If you are or even if you aren’t, I hope you will indulge me as we take a look at Christmas from down on the farm.

While Christmas is a day off for many people, it is not for the farmer. Calves have to be fed and cows have to be milked, eggs have to be gathered and hogs have to be slopped. OK, we don’t slop hogs much anymore, but they still need to eat and we need to make sure they have feed.

There are also a lot of farm products in and around the home at Christmastime. We can start at the table, but it does not end there. Some folks can remember the Christmas song that went, “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.”

Well, goose used to be the staple at the Christmas table in England, and by extension, around the world, at least in her colonies and former colonies like the United States. However, Queen Victoria did for the turkey industry what no other single person could do. She chose turkey for her Christmas dinner, and since everyone wants to imitate the queen, turkey has become the common centerpiece of the Christmas table.

What would Christmas be without cookies? I can only imagine the tons of flour that is used in the baking of these delectable treats. Here in Washington County and this valley, wheat has been and remains a major crop. I have mentioned this in previous articles as we are reminded by the many roads that have mill in their name.

The farmers’ involvement with Christmas does not stop with food. The next obvious contribution is the tree. According to available statistics, 88 percent of Americans will put up a Christmas tree and nearly 30 million of them will be real trees.

Some 350 million Christmas trees are growing on tree farms across the U.S., awaiting future Christmases. Firs, pines and spruces are the most popular choices. These trees are grown in all 50 states, including Hawaii, with Oregon being No. 1, Pennsylvania No. 4, Virginia No. 8 and Maryland coming in at No. 20.

Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. For every real Christmas tree harvested, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring. There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the U.S., and more than 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry. It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (6- to 7-foot tall) or as little as four years, but the average growing time is seven years.

Then there is cotton for clothing and flax for linen and so on. Farmers and their produce are all around us at Christmas as they are everyday of the year.

In closing, I would like to share a few nonfarm facts with you. Christmas is celebrated in some form by 95 percent of Americans of which 93 percent will exchange gifts, 74 percent will go to parties and 65 percent will attend a worship service.

 Regardless of your bent, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at


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