Sam Burnham, Curator
This time of year we speak of joy, hope, redemption, and celebration. There are so many songs, even one that reminds us that this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Its important to note that during this time can drives, food banks, and homeless shelters are kicking into overdrive. The Salvation Army is deployed with their little red kettles, “doing the most good.” suicide hotlines are working long hours. As a good friend once told me, “this is a messed up time of year for a lot of people.” That’s an easy truth to forget. All the festive and celebratory moods overshadow those who are missing someone, wresting with their past, or dreading their future. That larger shadow makes the season even more frustrating for folks having a hard time.
When God came in human form and walked among us He taught us about love, about compassion, about looking out for each other. He taught us about underdogs, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the broken. He charged us with being light in a dark world. How we treat these people during this season is the real reflection of our Christmas spirit. Compassion, charity, and friendship should define the season. It could be as easy as an open ear. Sometimes just being available can be enough to alleviate the weight on a troubled soul.
Detractors and critics like to point out that Christ was not likely born this time of year. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I don’t find the point to be relevant in either case. The point is that he was born and he gave a message and lived an example that should inspire us all this time of year.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that we hang lights, put candles in the windows, and illuminate our homes on the longest, darkest nights of the year. We celebrate the Incarnation during our darkest hours. We recognize that God comes to us when we need him the most.
We are beseeched to remember the reason for the season. That often is limited to a contest to put the manger in a place as prominent as the Christmas tree. But we miss the mark if that’s where we put our focus. More than elevating an image of Christ, our goal should be to remember and enact the those words, those teachings, those promises that Christ spoke among us. Love your neighbors, care for the sick, for widows and orphans, feed the hungry. As community-minded people we cannot wait for, or even expect, the government to do this. This is our charge, our responsibility. The darkest and longest nights of the year are when the lights shine the brightest. We’ve been instructed to be lights. Now is the time.
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.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Christmas Day is when we recognize the birth of Christ. And while many critics are quick to point out that Jesus would not have been born on December 25, we worship Christ and not the day. He is the focus and that we recognize the 25th as His day is the only thing that gives that particular day any significance over any other.
It is no no big secret that this is my first Christmas with my oldest son away from home. He is in a very cold and windy Illinois learning the ways of a sailor. This has been a long term goal for him and a sacrifice he has freely made. With him so far from home and with only minimal communication, it is a sacrifice our family shares with him.
And so on this Christmas, more than any before it, I am reminded of what Christmas truly is.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
Over the last 18+ years, God has taught me more about Himself through my children than by any other means. Through being a father, I have gained that εριγνωσις, that experiential knowledge of all those Scripture passages about The Father. Words on the page have walked along beside me and I now know them as trusted friends and not just memorized ideas.
I have tasted, ever so slightly, of the pride and the pain of a father whose son has chosen to go far from home because he places the welfare of others before his own. I know the fear of a father whose son’s comfort, well-being, and very life now rest in the hands of a cruel world.
I don't say this to equate myself with God, my son with The Son, boot camp with the Incarnation, or Naval Service with the Crucifixion or Resurrection. I say it to show how I came to the realization of the true meaning of Christmas. While we celebrate the birth, we know what must come:
“And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:”
Christmas, for all its cheer and goodwill, is about the sacrifice of a son. It was that very sacrifice of the Son that created the redemptive forces that make the cheer and goodwill of Christmas possible. I’m not sure I would have completely grasped this until this year, this distance, this silence. But I have a much better understanding of it now.
I hope you spend this holiday with those you lave. If you can't, I pray for your peace and comfort as I pray for my own.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire