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.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I shared some of the music that helps me to stir the Christmas spirit but there’s more. I thought I’d add a list of viewing - movies and television - that can help in the same way.
It’s A Wonderful Life - 1946
This movie is one of the mainstays of the season. I know it can seem like a cliche to include it but this movie is filled with the themes that we espouse at ABG. The small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey and his locally-owned savings and loan, the relationships he and the business have with the locals, the ever present bigger bank breathing down his neck, and his earnest efforts to keep them from taking over his town. It's the power of relationships in a small town and how things can be set right The messages are timeless, Jimmy Stewart is a legend and this is some of his best acting. It’s a Christmas must-see.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - 1965
An animated classic but this one isn’t just child’s play. Charlie Brown is frustrated by the commercialized Christmas he sees surrounding him. So he sets out to find some real meaning in the holiday only to be harried and harassed at every turn by the flashy expectations the commercialized Christmas has given to his friends. I gotta say that Linus standing on stage and reciting from the Book of Luke is one of the finest moments in television history. So simple but so profound. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A Christmas Story - 1983
For 24 hours each year, Turner Broadcasting puts this little jewel in the player and hits repeat. You can turn it on and then go on about your way. When you walk in the room you can stop and laugh a bit before you move on. It’s not nearly as profound as the previous two on the list, but this is the funniest Christmas movie ever made. It’s nostalgic and gives us a chance to recognize our own reality in the comical dysfunction of normal life. So many quotes from this movie have become common in our cultural jargon. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “It’s a major award!” And even the maniacal adaptation of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Used by the shopping mall Santa. When you hear one, you know where it’s from.
A Christmas Carol - 1984
Whichever version of this Charles Dickens classic you watch is totally up to you. I’m kinda partial to George C. Scott. Regardless of the version, this is a how-to guide to getting into the spirit at Christmastime. The crustiest curmudgeon to walk the Earth is transformed into a tender hearted benefactor in the course of one night. And if Scrooge can get in the spirit, surely you can.
Again, these are a few and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them with us!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire