Ruthorford’s Holiday Traditions
by Shanon Grey
It’s December and Ruthorford is already dressed for the holidays. Wreaths of red and green, silver and gold adorn the doors. Garland, dripping with berries and bows, outline windows and swag from post to post. Trees, encircled with shimmering lights, grace the median as cars slowly cruise by to enjoy the sparkling displays. Poinsettia decorate steps with broad leaves of red and white. Every manner of adornment has covered every coverable surface in town. There is now as much glitter for the adults as there is fantasy for the kids. The Post Office, trimmed in candy canes and gingerbread, awaits customers. Shop windows beckon with displays to entice browsers. This year Chapters is particularly inviting with candlelight flickering from boughs of green, sending soft light across the faces of holiday books. As if by command, the temperatures have dropped and flurries of white have replaced the rain that’s normal for this time of year in the south, dusting the small town in powdery magic.
The season gets off to a lavish start with the annual production of The Legend of the Snowy Owl, honoring the beautiful bird that warned the early people of danger, allowing them to traverse the sacred ground in search of healing herbs. The play is written, produced, and performed by Ruthorford’s children. Costumes, designed by the children, are furnished by Abbott House and have become more elaborate each year. Each summer, a drawing selects the lucky boy or girl who receives the honor of playing the magnificent owl—and who gets to fly in warning and drop the basket of herbs at a maiden’s feet. This year, Bonnie’s little brother, Trevor, won that honor. The audience waited with bated breath as he swept across the stage on invisible wires, laden with what had to be fifty pounds of feathers. The basket landed a bit harder than expected, as Trevor realized he couldn’t slow his momentum and he took aim in the general direction of Julie’s feet. Fortunately, Julie jumped right over the careening basket, reached back and caught it with one long sweep of her hand. The audience leapt to their feet in collective applause.
The second celebration is a two-day affair. On the day of the Winter Solstice, the people all gather on the lawn behind the Abbott Bed and Breakfast to tell stories to the sun, giving it reasons to remain with the earth and not leave. The Legend tells of ancient people watching the days shorten, as the sun remained gone from the sky for longer and longer periods of time. They became afraid it would eventually go away completely. The whole town will sing songs and tell stories, trying to entice the sun to stay. The stories vary from year to year and take on individual interpretation. Children favor stories about the plants and animals. One year, someone’s hamster took center stage, literally. Luckily, they caught him before he escaped completely. Musical accompaniment is encouraged. Ruthorford boasts quite a fine assortment of handmade drums and flutes. Everyone’s invited to attend and perform. Over the years, however, it has become prudent to organize the event slightly so it doesn’t run all the way into the Celebration of the Sun’s Return on the next day.
The Celebration of the Sun’s Return is a feast celebrating the sun’s decision to stay, offering a variety of foods grown under the sun. Grains, vegetables and fruits are the bounty of the feast. What started as simple offerings has evolved over the years into culinary masterpieces. Visitors have repeatedly asked for the cookbook. The Misses Alice and Grace have offered to coordinate the compilation of the many recipes. Of course, they are particularly fond of this idea since they have mastered quite a variety of pies produced specifically for the celebration, and have suggested a cookbook themselves.
During the week before Christmas, the Abbott Bed and Breakfast holds free gift-wrapping services in the front parlor, sponsored by Abbott House.
It has been necessary to close the doors and the drapes to the parlor, as kids have been known to go to extreme lengths to find out what is being wrapped. Actually, it’s not just the kids. Teresa has developed a system of drop-off and retrieval, using claim stubs, to ensure anonymity. The children are kept busy making gingerbread houses. The houses are proudly displayed about town for everyone to enjoy. Of course, a few are missing a shingle or two. For those not interested in culinary architecture, the is always Santa’s helpers available to help the little ones with a letter to Santa or treats for the big night.
On Christmas Eve, residents gather for caroling on the median of Main Street, later congregating at the Abbott Bed and Breakfast. Hot chocolate and cider fill the cups and tasty treats fill the tummies as the children receive presents from beneath the tree. Usually, families from the surrounding farms don’t venture into town for long periods. However, since this time of year is low on “portal” activity, downtown is the favorite gathering place for all.
On Christmas Day, the residents return to Abbott Bed and Breakfast for dinner. This is the one time of the year that Teresa and Bill are forbidden to do anything. Throughout the rest of the year, the beloved owners of the bed and breakfast are innkeepers extraordinaire, making the Abbott B & B the recipient of ten five-star ratings in as many years. However, on this special day, the staff takes over the operation of the B & B for the day. Townsfolk bring dishes, everything from appetizers to desserts, sweet tea to wassail, and all manner of sumptuous offerings, to complete a grand buffet. On this day, Teresa and Bill become the guests of honor, with their only tasks to visit and dine. Of course, getting these two people to do this has proven to be more than a little difficult over the years. Throughout the rest of the year, Bill is a virtual recluse of the kitchen and it generally takes a bit of early imbibing to ensure his participation. As it is Teresa’s nature to attend to others’ well-being, there have been times it has taken subtle threats to tie her to the chair to keep her from serving.
The last week of the year the town of Ruthorford celebrates quietly, with families visiting one another and sharing stories of the year. On January 1st, the residents come to town and make a very small token purchase at each store to ensure a profitable ensuing year. Of course, this being a tradition, each store has set aside special items available for a pittance to ensure the tradition continues. The final stop is to the Abbott Bed and Breakfast to drop off a story or writing for the Abbott House repository of family history. Kristoff Bask, CEO of the Abbott House Foundation, is in attendance to meet and greet each family and offer good wishes for the New Year.
So, if you find yourself in Ruthorford for the holidays, stop by, say hello, and enjoy a bit of tradition. If, by chance, The Shoppe of Spells sign is glowing, you might consider continuing on your way and come back some other time.
From our families to yours, Ruthorford sends greetings and wishes for a joyful and memorable holiday season.
The fun doesn’t end here. Don’t miss A Christmas Village on the bar above. Then, for a some holiday suspense, enjoy Pennyroyal Christmas: