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Holiday season brings out the best in farm people
The holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving Day until New Year’s Day, is one of the happiest periods for many farm families. Although harvest is usually not finished when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving Day in October, by Thanksgiving Day in the United States, most crop work is done.

People who live on farms and ranches often use the holiday season to review how the year has gone. For most agricultural people, the review is more than an accounting of their financial situation. It’s often filled with thoughts of family and a personal inventory of How am I doing?

We ask ourselves if we could have done something better. Did I work hard enough? What will I do differently in the way I approach life next year? Have I been sufficiently kind and generous? Of the people I love, who needs my help?

Holiday traditions are important. A farmer, Jim, told me about a beautiful tradition his family undertakes at Christmas. Each family member brings two gifts to the family celebration: one for the person whose name he or she drew, and an item that can be auctioned off after the gift exchange.

Usually the item to be auctioned off is practical, such as a farm tool, a pie or tickets to an upcoming event. Someone serves as the auctioneer. All the family members bid on the items they want; sometimes the price is steep!

The collected money is awarded to one or more family members in most need of assistance. The members discuss among themselves who needs help the most.

Family traditions during the holidays evolve. In my immediate family our children, their spouses and grandchildren gather at our farm for Thanksgiving vacation. The guys hunt pheasants, ducks and geese. The ladies “go hunting” for shopping malls or entertaining events. Even if they don’t buy much, they enjoy “high tea” or a good movie.

We all pitch in with the cooking and cleaning. The guys prepare the ham, turkey and hors d’oeuvres. The ladies make the side dishes, bread and desserts. In-laws, friends who don’t have relatives living close by and cousins usually join us for the Thanksgiving banquet.
Another Rosmann family tradition is a “fishing” Christmas tree. The three most important decorations are porcelain figurines of three fishers: a gray-haired grandpa with a fly rod and cigar, a younger man in his float tube and waders and a boy proudly displaying his prize catch. We take turns at the top of the tree.

Last week at a board meeting, a farmer friend, Chris, told me his favorite Christmas Eve ritual is cooking different kinds of potatoes – blue ones, purple spuds, yellows, reds and odd-shaped.
Another family I know goes for a ride on their horses after dark on Christmas Eve. All the family members saddle up and the parents help the kids. They meander around their ranch, talking, singing carols and sometimes saying a prayer together. Even when the weather is harsh, everyone insists on carrying out the tradition. Afterwards, Santa Claus visits and the family members exchange gifts.

Not everyone experiences joy during the holiday season. People who have lost loved ones often approach the holidays with sadness, for their closest companions are not with them during a time when joy is usually shared.

Others face uncertainty, such as coping with illness, business setbacks, loved ones serving in the military or any myriad difficulties. Often we tend to look at the holidays as omens of tough times ahead. We ask for emotional sustenance to help us endure.

It’s normal – if I can use that word – to prepare for challenges. The holiday season becomes a time of reflection, planning, praying, pulling resources together and figuring out who we can count on for support, both emotional and tangible.

The holiday season should be a time for personal growth. It’s easy to get caught up in the lures of shopping and other thrills of commercial enterprise. People who live and work the earth for their livelihoods are less apt than many to lose the vision for what is important. But even farm and ranch people have to remember the real reason we celebrate these holidays.

The holiday season is an opportunity to make ourselves better, to renew our commitment to sacrifice for the well-being of all and not just ourselves.

I wish you a beautiful Christmas, spiritually, Happy Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah or whatever is meaningful to your faith and beliefs. Thank you for helping make this first year of authoring the “Farm and Ranch Life” column a blessing in my life. Feel free to email me about your holiday traditions, too.

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D. serves on the adjunct faculty of the University of Iowa, lectures across the United States and abroad and owns a row crop farm in Harlan, Iowa. He is also a founding partner of the nonprofit network AgriWellness, Inc.
Send your thoughts and questions to him by email at – previously published columns are available for a small fee 30 days after they were originally printed, at