Roaring fire in the Christmas fireplace
The houses on New Street, Church Street, Washington Street and on past the last businesses on lower German Street are the places to be at Christmas time in Shepherdstown.
The ones with the chimneys climbing above the second stories.
The ones where 18th and 19th century German families celebrated their Christmases with unrivaled smells from the kitchen, decorations saved for decades in carefully labeled boxes, stories of the season passed through generations and attitudes of acceptance of others, smiled tributes to neighbors and placing the spirit of Christmas in every activity.
These homes are more than brick and mortar, more than their large windows to the streets, more than high ceilings, high hopes and massive front doors taller than any NBA center.
Here you find the fireplaces that could tell stories of families together and a warmth that defies modern day hustle, bustle and electronic gadgetry.
Fireplaces that were the character and moral fiber of earlier, less hurried times.
Some family member had the reputation of being the best caretaker of the fire that was to last through the day and into the always-present darkness of the long winter nights.
That person took a quiet pride in building the hours-lasting fire.
The right kindling and possibly some paper or cardboard under the smallish, dry wood.
Always ready at the side were the tinder dry, medium-sized logs of apple, maple, locust or even pine.
The neighbors were most ready with compliments when apple was burned and the outdoor aromas were the same blessings as the homemade desserts from the kitchens.
Many fireplaces had stockings hung alongside or above on a formidable mantel.
The family pets often showed their drowsy holiday personalities by taking naps in front of a roaring fire.
If gingerbread delights and welcomed hot chocolate weren’t “smellarrific” enough, there were usually various sized boughs of cedar to give any Christmas home the unmistakable odors that told that Santa Claus soon would be there.
Smells and warmth and the crackling sound of wood in the fireplace were worth anything Old St. Nick could bring from his faraway workshop.
Most important of all was the cleared area in front of the fireplace being used as a gathering place for the entire family.
A gathering place for the season.
Soft words exchanged. Wishes extended in all directions for goals and dreams to come true or be achieved. “To your good health.” “To your happiness.” “A thank you for leaving me a sugar cookie.” “Is there any more hot chocolate?”
Throw another log or two on the fire.
Get as comfortable as possible — no neckties, no prickly wool pants, no stiff-collared white dress shirts, no barely-broken-in leather shoes with “Sunday only” written all over them.
This is the fireplace . . . some used for more than a century. This is where a family can toast their love and completeness without the worry of the fast-paced outside world intruding as usual.
Centuries old fireplaces aroar with the Christmas spirit, the Christmas thoughts of giving to others . . . and just one more sugar cookie.