Sam Burnham, Curator
Christmas has so many traditions that they often get lost in the crowd. Some of the ones that survive have origins that are forgotten or lost. So I was excited to learn that the orange I often found in my Christmas stocking is an old tradition with a story. I really agree with this Smithsonian article that this tradition, which has fallen into obscurity, needs to make a comeback. I’ve found just the way to make it a Southern tradition.
Santa Claus is traced back to the 3rd Century Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. A story from church tradition relates that there were three woefully poor maidens and that St. Nicholas came one night and dropped three balls (or bags, or bars, or coins, depending on the storyteller) of gold through their window to serve as their dowries. Without this generosity these ladies would not find husbands as a dowry was a necessity in those days. That story is connected to the tradition of the Christmas orange that often appears in stockings on Christmas morning. The orange’s bright hue represents the glow of the gold. Hanging stockings for Santa became a tradition in the early 1800s and placing an orange in the stockings seems to have come into fashion about that same time.
I’ve only recently learned of the story and the tradition. I have a love of oranges and this connection is just one more reason to love them. The fruit is a reminder of my family roots in Florida and the sight of the expansive citrus groves that were much more common in my youth. Florida was much more rural then. Many of those acres that once produced citrus are covered in condominiums, shopping centers, or golf courses. I remember standing in a Walmart built on a former grove that had not once single piece of Florida fruit for sale. That was a huge shove towards Agrarianism for me.
This year the oranges are a little closer to home. Literally. The particular fruit I’m talking about are satsumas. My friend Brandon Chonko is raising them on his Southeast Georgia farm. The University of Georgia extension service recently recommended the cultivation of satsumas to Georgia farmers. The idea sounded just crazy enough to work so ol’ Birdmane put trees on the ground to see what would happen. After a couple years of attentive care and maintenance, he has harvested glorious Georgia citrus. Not just peaches or nectarines, we’re talking oranges. I never would have expected to have a serious orange raised north of about Howey-In-The-Hills or maybe Ocklawaha. But these oranges are from above that. North of Palatka, north of Green Cove Springs, north of Yulee, keep going, cross the St. Marys River and go out into the dirt roads of “Souega.” That’s where these are from.
So what’s the verdict? That’s the best part. I hate California citrus because it looks like the fruit in a dollar store still life or maybe some of the wax fruit in a bowl on your grandmother’s table. It’s perfect, bright colored, without a blemish. It tastes like candy, such a juicy sweetness but without that tart sassiness we love in our citrus. Florida citrus looks like it woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t dare mention it’s appearance for fear of retribution. Oh it has a delicious sweetness but it also has that sting of the citric acid, that slap in the mouth that makes you feel alive.
These Georgia satsumas are like their Floridian cousins. They section like a clementine, meaning they peel easily and separate into individual sections. The beginning of each bite is that sweet juiciness that you expect but it has that same tart finish. It’s so odd to explain, that sweet and sour taste in the same fruit. But it’s so familiar, so beloved. It’s a piece of home.
This Christmas, if you’re down in the Souega - Southeast Georgia - area, look up Grassroots Farms and get you some of these delicious satsumas while they last. Drop them in your loved ones’ stockings, if you can resist eating them immediately.
By Sam Burnham
The recent trip to Virginia gave me many ideas for stories to share here. I think there are many ideas that go with our small town theory we've been discussing and we'll get to that soon. But Before we do, I'd like to focus on one of the more beautiful sites I encountered along the way.
In the South, the great houses are a thing of legend. In all likelihood, this particular home was the first among them. Completed in 1722. the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg served as the the seat of power and the home of the king's designated colonial governor of Virginia. The governor that is discussed the most in the Revolutionary City was the final royal governor, John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore typically called Lord Dunmore.
The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1781, just months after the capital was moved to Richmond. John D. Rockefeller made the commitment to restore the city as a historic landmark and the Governor's Palace was reconstructed using plans discovered at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson had drawn up detailed plans on the structure while planning some renovations during his tenure as governor. While the plans were not used by Jefferson himself, they proved invaluable to the reconstruction effort.
The color in the gardens is beautiful even during the onset of fall. There's a resident cat, "Sir Thomas Grey" who roams the gardens much like his predecessors would have. Among the other life are squirrels and more than a few birds.
While such rooms and gardens are not practical in most of our homes today, this was not an ordinary home. This is a gem from yet another bygone era. An fitting reproduction of an elegant home of yesteryear and a recommended stop for anyone finding themselves in the area.
By Sam Burnham
He stands atop the hill, his gaze fixed on the distant horizon. From atop his perch, he has sustained the onslaught of wind, rain, sleet, snow, and the sweltering Georgia sun with nothing but his homespun jacket and the brim of his hat to shield him from the elements. He has his rifle ready, yet not aimed.
His mission is not martial. He stands guard, not against foes with guns or sabers, but against time, forgetfulness, and apathy. His existence is intended to stand tall and gallant, "lest we forget". He stands for those who can no longer do so themselves - his courageous forebears whose bones, now dust, lie in neat rows beneath six feet of red Georgia clay. They came from all over. They died here. Some of their stones are adorned with their names, their home states, their units. Others are marked "Unknown", having fallen far from home leaving their loved ones to wonder where, when, how, and why their loved one was gone.
This particular sentinel stands alone, mostly out of the public eye. Many of his colleagues, those crafted with the same intended mission, have stood their watch on town squares and courthouse lawns across The South. Most face North, guarding against the threat their charges faced, symbolically guarding against further intrusion.
But these sentinels face a new threat. It's not a plague or invasion from far northern lands. This one is local. It's all around them. Ignorance, indifference. and the effort to focus any and all understanding of the Confederate side of the War Between the States on the role of slavery and nothing else, whatsoever. The effort insists that every single Southern participant in that conflict was fighting directly for nothing but the continuation of slavery and no other cause could have motivated any participation in the war. It claims that any person of any rank was the same as the most active and dedicated members of Hitler's SS and no one could ever find any nobility or character in any moment of any one of these soldiers' lives.
So all over our land, these sentinels are under attack. They are removed from our public squares. They are vandalized under cover of night by people who must be really brave, as assaulting a stone statue in the darkness requires an amazing level of valor.
But these sentinels stand for far more than these protests would ever be willing to admit. The men who lie in the clay have complex stories, as complex as the cause they took up. They were as complex as people today. None were perfect. The prayer books in their haversacks would teach them that. Some were better than others, just as men of our day.
But the sentinels also stand as a monument of what can happen when polarized political forces see no reconciliation between opposing policies. When politicians lose all hope of compromise and communication, things can get ugly. The sentinels should remind us to talk, to listen, to think. As long as one stands, there is a reminder of one of the darkest and most tragic times in American History. We can learn from it...or we can repeat it.
For now this particular sentinel stands. His glance remains set against the progression of time and the elements. He stands tall, a reminder of so many things, good and bad. His presence is much less threatening than his absence could ever be. Long may he stand.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire