Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
The last full moon of 2021, known as the snow moon, occurred this past weekend, and Tuesday was the shortest day of the year. Already the days are lengthening, and we will soon be aware of brighter mornings and longer afternoons. A few flowers are still trying to keep blooming outdoors. Ice is forming on the edges of ponds, and the temptation to snuggle up to a cozy fireplace is strong.
Tonya Chadwick’s decorations near Saugus Center went up in late November, but strong winds damaged two of them beyond repair. When she went shopping to replace them, she found many items sold out as the holiday got closer, but she persevered and managed to find some that were just right to liven up the scene. One of the decorations that did survive the strong winds is a gray cat, which is especially significant to her because she owns an actual gray cat.
The life-size nativity scene on the front lawn of Dale Palma and his family is one of the most impressive in town. It was handed down from a family friend and is over 50 years old. In addition to Mary, Joseph and Jesus, there are the three kings — including one riding a camel – an angel, sheep, shepherds and a donkey.
Dale says when he was growing up in Boston the family used to drive to Saugus – especially the Lynn Fells Parkway neighborhood – to see the lights. When he was getting ready to move here three years ago he quipped, “Now all I need to do is get a life-sized nativity scene for my front yard.”
One of his friends said, “Hold that thought! I have one – just come and get it!” So Dale drove his truck up to Malden to bring them home, and the figures attracted quite a bit of attention as they rode through Melrose and Saugus. Friends and family members help him put the figures up every year, and his uncle assists with refurbishing the figures to keep the colors bright.
Other vintage decorations in the yard include lighted angels at the posts which were once part of North End feast signs.
In Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands), birds are considered symbols of good luck, and it is traditional to feed the birds on Christmas Day. It is believed that this will ensure good luck in the coming year. One version of the Christmas bird tradition is to spread birdseed on the doorstep of the home as a sort of invitation for the birds to share in the family feast. Another common custom is to tie sheaves of wheat or barley or other grains together like a bouquet and mount them on a pole near the house where birds can find them. Sometimes the stalks are braided together in ornamental patterns, especially heart shapes – these fancier versions may be placed over doorways or gates. In Sweden, the last sheaves of grain that are harvested are given as an offering to the birds. This usually occurs earlier in the fall, but it signals the end of the growing season and the beginning of winter. They can also be used as decorations indoors, but there the birds are cheated out of enjoying them! In parts of Finland, customs include waiting until you see the birds enjoying their Christmas feast before the human family can sit down to their Christmas dinner! For some, the customs are extended to giving special treats to domestic birds, such as chickens. The formal term for these customs is “The Remembrance of the Birds.”
Popular motifs for Christmas cards and winter postcards include children, Santa Claus, or gnomes spreading bags of birdseed in the woods, or carrying armloads of wheat, with birds flying overhead or gathering on the snowy ground to eat the seeds. Sometimes the benefactors are depicted decorating a small evergreen in the forest, with birds and other wildlife looking on in admiration. Stylized figures of birds are popular motifs on tree ornaments, tableware and household decorations. It seems appropriate at this season to appreciate the other living creatures who, like us, must overcome the challenges of cold weather until spring brings warm temperatures and abundant flowers once again.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.