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DIRTY MAMA: It’s Traditional

Nov 9th, 2010 | Category: Columns

by Shona Hilton

I love this time of year.  From the autumn equinox right through to Twelfth night. Every season has its place in my affections but autumn and early winter win my heart hands down. First there comes a smattering of brightly colored leaves, the animals start growing winter coats and the hens lay a few less eggs. We notice a drop in the goats’ milk production and they come into season. The garden starts to make its polite excuses and says goodnight. And then all of a sudden the tree colors riot, the winds start up and the air becomes alive with the dancing of leaves, the goats really, really come in and out of season and the first killing frost kicks all but the hardcore veggies out the door.  The wood burning stove gets lit for the first time in months and the headlamps are used to do the morning and evening chores. Then there are all the festivities – Harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas and of course New Year’s which draw families and communities together.

And then there are the traditions which appear more prevalent this time of year than at any other – or so it seems to me. Every family has their own. In our house, before we moved to Washington, it was traditional for my husband, Steve, to head to the hills for a Christmas tree. Each year he would come home with something big enough to grace a city centre display and as we would chainsaw it down to fit it through our front door he would proclaim: “But it looked so small in the forest next to all the other trees.” Every year. You would think he’d learn. Unfortunately the new Christmas tree tradition is getting the tree in and up and for Vlad the Vizsla to pee on it – I get the whole “I’m a dog, this is a tree, it’s what I do” – but I think this is one tradition that needs to be nipped in the bud.

Another thing the Hilton household does is have anything but turkey for Christmas dinner. Beef, venison (was it so wrong to tell the children one of the reindeer had an accident while the presents were being delivered? – they were ever so impressed), salmon and my personal favorite, goose, take center stage on our table.

And of course it would not be Christmas without me burning something spectacularly and delivering dinner to everyone hours late (this is what hors d’oeuvres are for right?). If I say four o’clock prompt for dinner everyone shows up at seven.

And then it ends. While not a religious observation for us, Twelfth Night is important as it lands on Steve’s birthday. And while we celebrate his day the decorations come down and we move on from the mulled wine which has been bubbling on our wood stove regularly.

But I think what has really made this time of year work so well for me is that I have finally learned not to fight the season. Accepting that it’s natural to want to sleep more, eat more and do less when it’s dark, wet or the snow is piling up outside is something I have only started doing guilt-free in the past few years. I read more, the kids, Steve and I play more board games. Chores still get done, but there seems to be more time to be introspective, to dream up plans for the year ahead, knowing that even in the depths of winter, once we are passed the solstice it’s getting lighter all the time and the warmth will return. And when it does then we can make our dreams for the new year a reality.

I bet you a pork pot roast that I’m not the only one who thinks this way at this time of year and whatever your reason for the season is:  Enjoy. Eat, drink, be merry and be well.

Shona Hilton lives in an old log cabin on a small farm in the South Fork Valley of Whatcom County and contends with mud, rain, dogs, small children, pigs and poultry and all the other things which make country life worth living. She can be contacted at

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