After living for a long time in urban and suburban environments, I am now living a rural lifestyle. Is this for everybody? Maybe not. But I sure do enjoy living 52 weeks a year in a place where I used to vacation for 2 weeks a year.
Here are 10 Things to Love About Rural Living
1. I don’t have to spend 10% of each day commuting. For years I did it in the morning, and then I did it at night, and I repeated the cycle five days a week. What a waste of time, energy, and emotional well-being. Nowadays, my vehicle of choice is a tractor and there’s hardly any traffic!
2. I am happy when I wake up. I don’t dread a new day. Each day is a new one full of adventure, projects and challenges. The old routine called the “daily grind” is history.
3. I live in a safe environment. I leave my keys in my truck. My house is unlocked. My dogs are the best doorbell I’ve ever had!
4. I know the history of much of my food nowadays. No more worry about food scares and where my food is coming from. My food doesn’t have unknown additives, hormones, enhancers, and other stuff that just isn’t good for you. I will live a longer life than if I had stayed in the city. My food has flavor, too. Just try one of my tomatoes and compare it to one from a supermarket. Mine has flavor…
5. Things are growing all around me. I am surrounded by real life—living things. I can look at my garden and watch my own livestock from my kitchen window. On my way into town one day, I saw literally hundreds of deer and wild turkeys. I really enjoy watching the eagles soaring above me as I work on my property.
6. My kids are learning about life. They know where their food is coming from, and they are responsible for some of that. They are able to follow their desires and passions, whether it is growing food, flowers, or animals. Their world is unlimited. They run around and play and I don’t have to worry. They have become much more self-sufficient and confident. They are no longer addicted to the DS, text messaging, or video games.
7. My family is somewhat protected from potential issues in the future. All is not well in the economic, political and global environments. Unemployment, home foreclosures, civil unrest… are things really getting better? No. The civil consequences of all of this will be hitting the urban areas much more than the rural areas.
8. I can be out hunting in five minutes. I can be catching a fish in thirty minutes. Couldn’t do that in my suburban neighborhood.
9. I know my neighbors. They are ready to help me with a phone call and when we pass on the road, they always make time to stop and say hello. In my last neighborhood, I barely knew or even saw my neighbors.
10. My family lives here too!
And the top reason I love rural living: The Importance of Family Traditions
Long, long ago, December 25 was designated as a day to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Over the years, other cultural and personal traditions became a part of Christmas celebrations. Our family embraces both the sincere appreciation of Jesus in our lives and the joy of participating in many fun and meaningful aspects of the season. We stretch our celebration into about six weeks, from the day after American Thanksgiving in late November into the first week of January. Each year we attend some new events, try some new recipes, and make some new decorations.
But the basis of our celebration of the season is a cornerstone of family traditions.
A sense of belonging
Family traditions give a family a sense of belonging, routine, and anticipation. They provide a cohesiveness that can bring everyone together no matter what the circumstances. If a teenager is feeling like an outsider or wondering which planet his parents came from, family traditions can bind everyone together in shared history and memories. Someone going through a tough time can relax and be reminded that he or she is not alone. Newcomers to the family can be invited to introduce some of their own traditions as the family melds together. A new family being formed by remarriage can encourage the family blending by incorporating traditions from each merging family and then creating new traditions together. With turmoil all around us in the world and even in our communities, there’s something dependable and faithful and even comforting about participating in a family tradition. It means something to count on, something to anticipate, a feeling that “I’m a part of this family and this family is a part of me.”
Family traditions, old and new
In the past decades, as we shaped our own family’s winter holiday traditions, we (Jim and Marie) carried over a few from our own childhoods. Each of us had always gotten a tangerine at the bottom of our Christmas stockings. We both had fun memories of annual visits from “Santa” as part of Christmas Eve preparations and Christmas morning surprises. Holiday music was played in both of our childhood homes; local concerts and Christmas Eve candlelight services were special events. On the other hand, we dropped with a thud the traditional fruitcakes of our childhood; we tweaked the typical Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus of our parents and grandparents. We added activities like our annual trip to a rural tree farm to select and cut down the “perfect” tree.
We made our own set of traditions and our own memories as we raised our children. Today they do the same in their homes, keeping some of our traditions alive and adding others that fit their families.
Then we start the “doing.” We bake cookies and share special holiday food–both old favorites and new recipes. We have enjoyed making tree ornaments and other decorations like painted plaster Christmas village houses and decorated graham-cracker “candy houses.” Some of us even watch sappy holiday movies; Jim and Marie’s annual favorites include It’s a Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story, Christmas with the Kranks, The Santa Clause series, and our most recent additions, Mrs. Miracle and Call Me Mrs. Miracle.
It’s never too late to start initiating family traditions. Any favorite activity, project, or food your family enjoys is a candidate for a tradition. If you’re short on ideas, ask friends about their traditions or search blogs, magazines, and books for others. Here are a few of our own special customs.
Tree ornament collections
We gave each of our children a tree ornament every year so that when they left home as adults they had their own sets of decorations to start with. We still give each family an ornament most years and give each grandchild one as well. Some of the ornaments have been purchased, but most were handmade. Usually the ornament has some significance either for the individual child or for the family. Our kids’ collections have included their favorite animals or pets, college logo ornaments, symbols of that year’s family vacation, and a shiny key to signify the first driver’s license. Last year Marie made felt hens for the grandkids, using the color of each child’s favorite chicken in our flock. This year our farm kids will have little piggy ornaments to signify the new farm project of the year.
Over the years we have brought home small tokens from vacation spots for our own ornament collection. If they weren’t already tree decorations, a bit of ribbon or other adornment was added to what was originally a fridge magnet or key ring. Nowadays our tree is like a walk down memory lane that evokes wonderful memories from years gone by.
Celebrating Christmas as family
We encourage each of our four young families to spend a leisurely Christmas morning at home, so our extended family gathering is usually on a weekend in December or even early January. It’s not unusual for some families to stay overnight, and we may even have a “Christmas Eve” and a “Christmas Day” over two days so we can fit in all three of our favorite holiday meals. As the family grows, the gift-giving changes. Some years the adult kids draw names among themselves. We usually have some kind of silly or serious gift bag exchange so Marie can direct whatever new pass-and-steal game she’s discovered for that year. And there is one gift that keeps on giving–we never know from one year to the next which of the women is going to receive the 80s style hot pink shoes!
Christmas Eve appetizer buffet
Though we have a sit-down dinner on Christmas Day, we like to keep things simple on Christmas Eve. We can graze and eat when we’re hungry, there’s always plenty for friends who stop by, and best of all–preparation and cleanup are fairly simple. Everyone brings some type of appetizer to contribute. Nowadays we enjoy this buffet as the main meal of our family gathering. Our favorite must-haves include slow cooker sweet and sour meatballs; veggie trays with pickles and–of course–olives for fingers; pigs in blankets made with refrigerated tubes of croissant dough and cocktail wieners; and other specialties introduced over the years. Our kids who married into the family have added their favorites from their own family gatherings. And oh will there be Christmas cookies, including old traditionals like spritz, Jan Hagel, and frosted sugar cookies; more recently acquired favorites; and some nostalgic holiday treats we adopted during the years we lived in Germany. As our children developed their own styles in the kitchen, we discovered who had a flair for this or that. Now the oldest grandchildren are beginning to contribute their specialties. Let’s just say there’s never a shortage of delicious and appetizing food at our gatherings.
Birthday cake for Jesus
We start our Christmas morning breakfast with some kind of a cake, with candles and all. Over the years we had coffee cake and yeast rolls; we finally settled on our now-traditional “cake” of homemade cinnamon rolls in a large pan. We sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and blow out the candles for him.
Time-saving tip: Days before Christmas, Marie shapes the cinnamon rolls and freezes them unbaked. On Christmas Eve, she sets the frozen rolls out to thaw overnight. In the morning she pops them in the oven and they’re fresh and hot for breakfast.
Sharing the joy
When the kids were young we also had neighborhood birthday parties for Jesus; each guest brought a toy for the town’s giving tree or groceries for the local food bank. This gave the children a sense of reaching out to others as well as a reminder of the focus of the season. Other ways of giving to the community include taking children’s names from a “giving tree” and selecting gifts; sharing groceries or prepared food with a local family; and caroling in the neighborhood or at a special care facility.
Reindeer cookies with Grammy
One of our traditions is just several years old. It involves Grammy Marie and all the grandkids, though Papa Jim and parents are allowed to watch and help little ones. Marie saw a fun cookie in a magazine before she became a grandma and filed the idea away for later. Now the grandkids from toddlers to teens look forward to baking day. We try to get as many of the grandkids together at one time; this year we made the cookies on Thanksgiving after dinner dishes had been cleared away. You may have seen reindeer cookies in various colors and forms. Here’s how we make them:
The simple ingredients:
- Round slices/cutouts or flattened balls of brown cookie dough (gingerbread, spice, peanut butter, etc.)
- Small pretzel twists for antlers
- Colored candies for facial features–including red for noses
- Separate baking sheet or labeled parchment paper for each child
- Imagination, a good sense of humor, and flexibility as the kids create some interesting “reindeer”
- Optional: a special apron for each child; AbbyKate Designs will embroider names on cotton aprons. Don’t forget one for Mom or Grandma!
Family traditions may be deliberately developed or spontaneously adopted. They may be serious or funny, simple or complicated, old-fashioned or modern and trendy. The important thing is that they are valuable to your family in some way and they evoke warm memories as years go by.
And by the way, family traditions are not just for Christmas! Any holiday, birthday or other annual occasion can include traditional aspects, and other special days can be “invented.” Maybe you serve green pancakes for St. Pat’s, or hunt for pumpkins in October. Do you have a special end-of-school year party? Jump-in-the-fall-leaves day? Snow pudding with the first good snowfall? Tradition is tradition!
This December many families all over the world are grieving after tragic losses. Others are struggling to make ends meet and navigate an ever-changing economical climate.
In the midst of it all, we are ever mindful of the true reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season, and our hope for navigating the future is in him.
We all wish you a warm and fulfilling holiday season. Our blog may be quieter than usual while we spend time with family and friends, but we have more helpful posts and something new planned for 2013.