In conjunction with the holiday-inspired exhibition Winter Wonderland, we asked staff to share some of their traditions so that we can share them with you. Up first, a familiar face to regular guests to Fernbank NatureQuest.
The Flames of Christmas Day
When Granddaddy built his house after coming home from The War, he put a big cabinet into the wall beside the fireplace. This cabinet was filled with all manner of mysterious, mystical fire accessories, everything from spare brooms and pokers to popcorn poppers to matches of whatever length you might want. The most remarkable thing though, the thing that'd catch the sparkle of the old man's eye and set this young boy's imagination ablaze, was the color powder. The powder was a nondescript gray in a ratty cardboard tube, the markings of which had long worn off. Looking for the powder, I'd root through the cabinet when no one else was around, finding plenty of empty match boxes, discarded newspaper, and similar refuse stored in precarious proximity to the hearth, but I never could find that powder. Granddaddy, of course, always found it straight away, leading me to suspect some hidden compartment. Looking back now, he more likely sneaked the color powder up from his workshop downstairs on the only time of the year we used the fireplace: Christmas Day.
Christmas when I was a boy was something of a Rockwellian affair with the whole family in the living room gathered around the outskirts of a sea of colorfully wrapped and ribboned presents seeping from underneath a big tree decked out in lights, beads, and ornaments older than my parents. On the other side of the room sat the fireplace, hand-decorated stockings nailed to the wood paneled wall above. Once or twice each year, when everybody was together in the room, Granddaddy would toss a handful of the powder in the fire, and everyone would gasp and cheer. Honestly, I couldn't say much about everyone else's reaction because my attention was rapt upon the flames. First, the orange flames turned to gold, then a deep dandelion yellow. Next, they shifted to green, an azure glow that soon became the dark blue of ocean depths before fading to the hues of a clear noon sky and back to orange.
The big flashy demonstration, everyone gaping and awing, wasn't my favorite tradition of the holiday though. Every year after the rest of the family had gone home or to visit neighbors and the quiet of night had fallen, Granddaddy and I would pull up an old rocking chair and sit alone in the living room lit only by twinkle of the tree lights to watch the fire die. These where the times he'd let me throw the powder in myself, spectacular bursts of colored flame erupting far from the prudent eyes of mothers and wives. Before long the flicker of flames would fade and the logs would turn to ash, which marked a fine time to darken the tree and settle into our beds as the silence of a sated Christmas night settled onto the house.
—Sean D'aigle, Exhibition Facilitator