Take a deep breath and enjoy the season

December 11, 2012|By JEFF SEMLER |

Nostalgia is an interesting thing. It is defined as a longing for the past, often in idealized form. It is the idealized part that makes nostalgia interesting.

Many of us are guilty of harkening back at least in our minds to a simpler time, especially during the frenzy of the Christmas season. What we forget is the reality of the situation. We cannot live in the past, but what we really need to do is take the good aspects of days gone by and apply them today.

One of those aspects is the sense of community. We have seen the complete opposite of that when a person gets trampled by shoppers and when shoppers are asked to leave the premises because it is now a crime scene.

The culture part of agriculture always has been about cooperation and collaboration. My father talks about moving from farm to farm to thresh. He speaks warmly of the people and the good food while forgetting the heat and back breaking work of those July days.

I remember reading an editorial several years ago by the editor of the Draft Horse Journal, it had a picture of a farm family sitting on their porch looking out at their new Allis-Chamblers tractor. The message of the editorial was that the tractor didn’t replace their horse, it replaced their neighbor, and to a great extent it did. With mechanization of agriculture we have replaced farmers and farm hands. The Amish don’t shun technology because they fear it; they selectively choose to adapt technology with an eye on how it will impact their community’s interdependency.

Again, I am not for going back to hoeing and hand milking, but I am for going back to neighbor helping neighbor and the barter system. Our current economic downturn might force this upon us, but I would rather see us choose it.

What has sparked this train of thought is twofold — the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays always make us feel nostalgic and I was remembering an article I read several years ago titled “Life before refrigeration.”

In the article, the author talks about the changing of the seasons and how that affected the activity of rural communities.

One such example that I can readily identify with was the fall butchering and how folks would plan for their hogs to be fatten and ready for butchering as the weather turned cold. The cold air was nature’s refrigeration.

While some readers have developed a blank stare, others can recall going to Uncle Roy’s for the family Thanksgiving butchering.

In my family, this was not only a work event, it was a social event. There were as many neighbors and friends as there were relatives, and everyone had their job. Youngsters and beginners were lard cutters. Today, we have moved to a biennial butchering and there are more kettle warmers than helpers. A kettle warmer, by the way, is someone who stands by the kettle and is warmed by the fire.

At any rate, feel nostalgic this holiday season, but make a New Year’s resolution to practice some of the good things of days gone and perhaps help build a better community in the process.

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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