It is something people used to know quite intimately, but now only have a vague idea of what it is all about. It is something most people have a great deal of misconceptions about. It is something that has been highly-commercialized. It is something organizations with self-centered agendas like to use to further those agendas. It is something surrounded by more folklore than fact.
It is a subject that can generate a good deal of controversy. So what is it: Christmas or agriculture?
Actually, it is both; because, when you think about it, Christmas and agriculture have a lot in common. The connection goes beyond miracles and animals, it is no mere coincidence that the first people told about the birth of Jesus were livestock folks, “Shepherds watching over their flocks by night.”
And, remember, Jesus was basically born in a barn. Yet, the real connection comes in the way our modern society views Christmas and agriculture. For far too many people, the real significance of the birth of Jesus is misunderstood – just like the role that agriculture plays in the daily lives of most people.
In his book Christmas is Not Your Birthday, Mike Slaughter sums up the modern celebration of Christmas this way, “Many Christmas traditions that we hold as Christians are a mixture of biblical truths, blended with some 18th century Victorian practices and a double shot of Santa theology.” He added for many people today Christmas is a blend of The Night Before Christmas and the biblical account of Christ’s birth. The Christmas story we sing about in carols is a romanticized amalgamation of feel good spirituality designed to make us cheerful, charitable, and full of hope for the future. Against this backdrop is the most powerful commercial marketing machine ever invented. Christmas shopping and Christmas presents have almost completely subjugated the spirituality of the season in the name of retail profits.
To put it another way, most people don’t have a clue about what Christmas is really about, why it is important, and why we celebrate it in the first place. This can also be said about agriculture. As I have written over and over in this column in the past year, the vast majority of people have little idea where their food comes from, how and where it is produced, and why they should care. Like the birth of Jesus, there are major misconceptions about agriculture, its origins, practices, and relevance to today. Many of these misconceptions are propagated by those who have an agenda.
Just as retailers stress the “Joy of giving,” animal and environmental activists stress the industrial aspect of modern agriculture by promoting the factory farm myth. Just as the portrayal of St. Nick in Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas had been distorted into Santa Claus, the image of the farmer as independent, hard working, and not highly-educated with 50 acres, a cow, a few chickens, and a wife who tends the garden and raises the kids has become what many people think a farmer should be.
It is time to challenge the comfortable generalities people have about Christmas and agriculture.
Push them to look beyond the crass commercial celebration of the holiday and to explore what the birth of a poor Jewish boy in an occupied country centuries ago means to us today.
Likewise people must begin to look beyond the meat case and colorful grocery store shelves to begin to understand the role they play as consumers in agriculture and to rediscover the modern farm families who safely and responsibly produce their food.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Gary Truitt may write to him in care of this publication.