THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.
When I was a kid, we had a few rituals that added freshness and magic to the relentless succession of days and nights. Since we were suburban folk, and apartment dwellers at that, putting away the shorts and breaking out the sweaters was our only nature-driven seasonal chore.
Each year before Christmas we would do what we called Christmas cleaning, which I hated, dreaded and avoided. But, when we were finished, it was the nicest feeling ever. Christmas cleaning was more rigorous than everyday cleaning because you washed down walls & baseboards, emptied cabinets and wiped them clean and tossed lots of unwanted clutter away.
Then I’d rearrange my bedroom furniture and swap the comforter and sheets for the winter ones. And, when the cleaning was done, we put up the holiday decorations. We decorated for other holidays, but nothing was close to the once-a-year splendor of Christmas. Add some crunchy, sparkly snow and it was pure magic.
Marking time with rituals is something people have done for a long, long time and is shared by many cultures. But over time, even within the same culture, the meaning evolves from generation to generation. Back when America was more anchored by farm life, we didn’t need to buy artificial decorations to celebrate a holiday or season. Nature provided all that and more.
I especially enjoy Edna Lewis’ description of seasonal markers in her book The Taste of Country Cooking. One of my favorite books, her descriptions of the festivals and seasonal events in her small, turn of the century rural Virginia town are vivid.
Especially this one following hog killing day which would take place in December:
“My father would remove the liver and the bladder, which he would present to us [kids]. We would blow the bladders up with straws cut from reeds and hang them in the house to dry. By Christmas they would have turned transparent like beautiful balloons. We always handled them with care and made them part of our Christmas decorations.”
“Just before Christmas a green lacy vine called running cedar appeared in the woods around Freetown and we would gather yards and yards of it. We draped everything in the house with it: windows, doors, even the large gilded frames that held the pictures of each of my aunts and uncles.”
Can I entertain myself for one minute by imagining the joy on their faces when you hand your loved ones a fresh pig’s bladder? Got those reed straws ready?
As we become more distant from Nature, does the scope of our holiday decorating seem to grow? Is there an inverse connection? Christmas is no longer so special; there’s an inflatable lawn ornament or string of lights to mark every Hallmark holiday now.
American life rolls from New Year’s confetti through the red hearts of Valentine’s Day, the shiny green of St. Patrick’s Day, and the pastels of Easter. Then we get a break because apparently summer requires enough purchases that it doesn’t really need another holiday consumer stimulus package. Whoops – did I just forget the 4th of July??
Then it’s back to school followed by the black and orange of Halloween, the painted hand turkeys and pilgrim hats and horns-of-richly-colored plenty for Thanksgiving, and wrapping up the year with the spruce and holly filled reds and greens of Christmas / blue and silver filled Hanukkah/richly multi-hued Kwanza. Rinse, lather, repeat.
What should we think of this? Charming or depressing or maybe a bit of both? Are we savoring the sacred unique quality of each holiday and welcoming a new season, or mindlessly obeying the call to buy a bunch of plastic crap? Have Nature’s seasonal joys and our spiritual observances been shoved aside by the retail display season?
Remember: the candy’s half off the day after ….
Honestly, I can’t think of a single decoration to top the excitement I feel at the sight of the first Robin and the early crocuses pushing through the slushy spring snow. Easter eggs are nice, a ham and a baking ritual something to enjoy, but do we need to rob Christmas of it’s extra-special once a year only sparkle?
I’m content to watch the rhubarb unfold, smell the spring earth, meet new babies, harvest dandelions and watch the seedlings for Summer’s garden push their tiny green heads towards the sun (OK, grow light, but STILL).
Each season has its projects, cooking rituals, clothing, joys and hardships. Who needs a yard inflatable when real live trees are in bloom?
Don’t mind my crotchety self if you live for a good American consumer holiday. I have no desire to dampen your joy if you truly love that stuff. But I have a suspicion that many of us don’t really love it or hate it, but do it because that’s just what we’re taught to do.
Sprite wants me to tell you to have a great holiday. Slow it down and enjoy the sunshine. Make sure to chew your cud thoroughly and mindfully. She says your holiday will be more fun if you don’t run to Target ten times. Sprite thinks you should spend an afternoon laying on a sunny spot of grass, closing your eyes and turning your face to the sun for a few hours. I’m not kidding. That’s exactly what Sprite said. She said that always makes her feel better… and Target will still be there tomorrow.
That Sprite’s wiser than she looks. Easter Blessings Everyone…
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!