By Frances Stebbins
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
Are we finally through Christmas?
A moot question now that it is halfway through the (long) month of January. The Roanoke Valley has settled into the bare down-time of mid-winter.
I felt it as I did several errands on a cloudy day earlier this week.
Clearly, the commercial Christmas is over until perhaps October 2022 when artificial trees appear in the big-box stores. Shopping is encouraged earlier and earlier in the fall. Looking for electric candles for my windows around December 10, I was told they were all gone. But then I found exactly what I wanted at my favorite Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Shenandoah Avenue Thrift Store.
In the retail world, certainly Christmas is over on December 26. Stores are cluttered and clerks are busy marking down decorations and displaying bare shelves. It’s the ideal time to pick up bargains related to decorating, but there’s a dispiriting look to everything. In some stores, inventory of products is taken at this time.
Since childhood, I’ve hated “the week between” because of the emotional let-down after the heightened spirits related to the musical programs and plays anticipating the Nativity of Christ. It’s a time to be sick with the “stomach virus” and at certain ages having bored children underfoot. Rarely in our parts does a big snow offer excitement.
There might be an end-of-year new baby in the home. And among the elderly like this writer, it can be an annual spell of sad memories; even without COVID-19, many folk will die around the holidays.
When my late husband Charlie was living, for several years, we chose to take a day trip to a place within two hours of Salem with which we were unfamiliar. We visited places like Galax, Monterey and Grundy or to the north Staunton or to the south Mount Airy, North Carolina. A good meal out was part of the treat to ourselves. Such memories today are sadly sweet depending on the prevailing mood of my day.
But so much for the secular world’s observance of December 25. For those who take their religion seriously, December 25 marks the start of the liturgical “season” of Christmas observed in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and most United Methodist congregations. It ends on January 6 which has for many centuries been the date to symbolically mark the coming of the Three Wise Men to worship the Infant Jesus.
That date – which has sadly taken on a new and very secular meaning since the awful national event of 2021 – is known in the liturgy as Epiphany which means loosely spreading the light of Christ to a world which does not know Him. There is music, art and legends – remember the classic 19th Century tale “The Story of the Other Wise Man,” associated with this period which will end in 2022 on March 2, Ash Wednesday, the start of the penitential period of Lent.
So, Christmas is definitely over for the Christians who take seriously the life of Jesus.
I saw a newspaper feature recently that showed how Osage Oranges could be used for attractive table decorations in the holidays. The story by a local writer Anita Allen told me more about this interesting “fruit’ borne on a small spreading tree than I could have imagined. I was familiar though with the neon-yellow globe about the size of an orange, for in my Piedmont Virginia childhood, I passed under an Osage Orange tree as I walked daily about a half-mile to school.
My mother and I, having no car, took a short cut through a neighbor’s pasture to reach the rural highway and our mailbox. In the fall, just after black walnuts fell, we could gather what came from the tree. We called them “Mock Oranges.” They are not common in our area, the news story stated.
The newspaper story did not mention a botanical fact that Osage Orange trees are often near those that bear mulberries. In the pasture I knew, a wire fence separated the two. Not tall, these trees had low spreading limbs on which a child could sit and bounce.
As for eating, the fruits of neither tree are poisonous, but they are hardly appetizing, being sweet and sticky. The Osage Orange has a pungent smell; the Roanoke author said she uses the fruits to perfume a closet.
It seems the name comes from Osage Indians, and early American settlers valued it for planting in tight hedgerows to keep out predatory animals. Being hard and strong the wood made excellent crossbows
After mentioning last week in a column the development of ministry to inmates of state, regional and local jails, I received several comments on the topic from readers.
One came from a newcomer to Salem. Annie Johnston, a retired registered nurse, who with her retired physician husband, Dan Johnston, bought an historic house in western Roanoke County. For more than 30 years, the Johnstons maintained a clinic on the Virgin Island American possession of St. Croix.
They came to the Western Virginia mountains to escape the frequent devastating storms of the Caribbean and for the good medical care. My column, said Johnston, brought back memories of the poor criminal justice that exists on the island paradise she longs for in the current winter weather.