The chances of a white Christmas here are about one in ten thousand. Still, Wickenburg seems ready for Christmas.
The town is decked out in Christmas lights, especially around the town hall. A block away, a tall, undistinguished evergreen has once again been transformed into a beautiful community Christmas tree.
Folks have strung lights on old chuck wagons and cactus and plastic horses. Coyotes singing in the wee hours sound as though each is trying to sing a different carol.
The snowbird outbreak appears to be worse than last year, but town officials say they can contain it. A few winter visitors brought brass monkeys with them from Minnesota and North Dakota, because they’re expecting a hard winter up there.
One snowbird, Santa Claus, has left his winter home in Wickenburg and flown to the North Pole. He left his red Hummer in long-term parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Old Claus has threatened to retaliate if I tell people he winters alongside a golf course in Wickenburg. But everyone in town knows he lives here.
Besides, I can’t lie about Christmas. It’s a sacred holiday, one that makes me a little misty.
Santa said that if I reveal the location of his winter home, I’ll find nothing in my stocking but a pomegranate.
Well, fine. I have come to love pomegranates. For years, I’ve been claiming that I’m not as young as I used to be. Since I started eating pomegranates in November, I’m even younger than I used to be.
I’m not talking about palmagranates, which grow likes dates on tall trees around Yuma. Or the pomegranite boulders common in Yavapai and Cochise Counties.
I’m referring to the round, reddish fruit found on a tough desert tree, mentioned often in the Bible. (You may have noticed that the farm where Saddam Hussein was captured grows pomegranates.)
Until I saw the light, I considered pomegranates useless. When I was a kid in Phoenix, we thought pomegranates from the neighbors’ trees were best used as pretend hand grenades. The really ripe ones left on the trees in December were substitutes for the snowballs available to lucky kids in New England.
This was not a pastime approved by the PTA, because when you burst a pomegranate against a block wall, it made an ugly purple stain. If you ate one, the little juice sacs that contain the seeds stained fingers and clothes. Mothers were not fond of pomegranates.
Now, however, a California firm has launched a major campaign to market pomegranates and pomegranate juice from the San Joaquin Valley. I suspect the company would like to make them as fashionable as kiwi fruit was for a while, or chipotle.
A display at the supermarket was so attractive that I bought half a dozen pomegranates, just for old times sake. The display included a pocket brochure explaining the history and merits of the pomegranate–a natural antioxidant with ridiculously low amounts of fat and carbohydrates.
At this point, I began my own scholarship, going quickly to the Internet. I found that Spanish missionaries brought pomegranates into California and Arizona in the 16th century.
Four-star resort restaurants around Phoenix and Tucson offer dishes with a pomegranate glaze. If you do a web search for “pomegranate and Arizona,” you’ll find that I’m not lying, even though I should be.
You’ll also learn that one ingredient of pomegranate juice is being studied as a means of preventing skin cancer. Fair-skinned people like me may soon be going around with purple skin, but no skin cancers.
The brochure from the California company explains that for more than 5,000 years, the pomegranate has been “revered” as a symbol of fertility and low interest rates. The fruit is said to have other secret and mystical powers. It shows up often in art and religion and mythology.
It really is a pretty fruit. Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch did perhaps the most famous painting, “A Boy Bringing Pomegranates.” You may also remember Vincent Van Gogh’s still life, “Listening To Pomegranates.”
For less than a thousand bucks, a Sedona gallery offers a limited edition bronze of a hand holding a pomegranate, by the Russian sculptor Yuroz. The pomegranate without the hand is a mere $550.
Deuteronomy promised the Israelites that after wandering 40 years in the wildnerness, they would be led to “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates…”
See what I mean? “…a land of olive oil, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.”
Dig brass? Brass is an alloy. In the entire history of mining fraud in Arizona, only one fool tried to sell stock in a brass mine.
I digress. I turned to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and found a love song written in Egypt 3,000 years ago: “Sweet pomegranate wine in my mouth is bitter as the gall of birds.” What a great hook for a country song: “Your Love Galls Me.” Your bird galls me?
The ancient Polypropellant people of Mesopotamia believed that eating pomegranates made them invisible to their enemies. The entire Polypropellent tribe was killed by the Seedees tribe, which believed that eating pomegranates gave them superior eyesight.
Cadiz, Spain, once staved off a boorish Moorish attack by firing salvos of pomegranates from catapults.
The juice and the tiny seeds of the pomegranate are contained in little sacs called “arils.” The website of the California Pomegranate Council says that whether you eat the tiny seeds or spit them out is a personal choice; I chew them up and swallow them.
My research brought me only one disappointment. One website claimed that each pomegranate contains exactly 365 arils–the same as the number of days in a year (except 2004, which is leap year).
You can’t believe everything you read on the net. I carefully took apart a California pomegranate and counted. Miss Ellie and Fibber supervised. There were only 342 arils.
No matter. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Wickenburg branch are developing a seedless pomegranate, a juicier variety with a little drinking straw you can pull out from the calyx, the ragged projection at one pole of the pomegranate. Busy people don’t have time to dig for arils.
Not to be irreverent, but Jesus almost certainly ate pomegranates. Everyone did back then. I won’t try to tell you that the three wise men carried pomegranates, but what do you think made them so wise?
That brings us to the real reason for Christmas: a celebration of the birth of Christ, to whom many of us turn for guidance and salvation.
Jesus was often found in dusty desert villages. He is still here, if you have eyes to see and a heart to hear.
In all sincerity, the faculty and staff of the Wickenburg Institute for Factual Diversity wish you joyous holidays, and a juicy new year.