Manassas Journal Messenger | Virginia, there is no Claus

For the holidays, tromp out to Christmas Tree Point, or slurp a drink beside Eggnog Creek to wash down the dinner eaten at Goose Neck Dam.

December holidays find their place in Virginia locales and physical features.

There are no Mistletoe municipalities, Scrooge suburbs or Dreidel Downs, but there are plenty of locations using “garland,” “peace” and “fruit.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s online Geographic Names Information System contains almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and its territories.

The system identifies the federally recognized name of a place (including physical features, churches, schools and cemeteries) and lists them by state, county and geographic coordinates. Other maps or atlases of Virginia may list informal or traditional place names that are not recognized by the USGS.

Virginia was founded for economics, a purpose reflected in the majority of places named for Britain’s royalty, historical figures, British towns and marketplaces and industries, said Charlie Grymes, who teaches Virginia geography at George Mason University. Political currying often played a significant role in naming places.

“This colony wasn’t settled for religious purposes,” Grymes said.”Our impetus was economic.”

The result, he said, is that compared to some other former British or even Spanish colonies, Virginia has relatively few Christian-themed locales – although there are 13 populated places beginning with “Saint” – and fewer still specifically connected to December holidays.

“What is interesting to me is how few there are, relative to the things we could have named out of the Bible,” Grymes said.

“We didn’t go around naming a lot of places Jerusalem. What is Courtland now in Southampton County was Jerusalem at one time. But we didn’t apply a lot of religious place names to the counties or the places we established,” he added.

Anglican parish, municipality and county names required approval from the General Assembly, according to historian Brent Tarter of the Library of Virginia.

Physical features, however, were often left to the locals and made their way into deeds and land grants and into officialdom, Tarter said.

“Most of that stuff just grew,” he said. “That’s about as democratic as it can be.”

With a little imagination, the GNIS database yields several December holiday-related place names in Virginia. Louisa County’s Christmas Tree Point is a cape on Lake Anna. It’s not too far from Dickens Creek and the tiny community of Plum Tree.

Eggnog Creek spills through a narrow waterway near Townsend in Northampton County on the Eastern Shore.

Goose Neck Dam holds back the waters in Rockbridge County, and Goose Creek, Goose Pond and Goose Points are splashed all over the commonwealth. “Star” and “snow” blanket the state. There’s even an Angels Rest.

Virginia may not have a Menorah Mountain, but the number of places bearing the name “Top” can leave the head spinning.

Celebrate the miracle of lights on Miracle Ridge in Highland County or Goochland County’s Oilville. Eat latkes after climbing Potato Hill in Amherst County. Syrians reside in Madison County.

Unity, one of Kwanzaa’s seven principles, is a tiny community that lies north of Franklin in Southampton. Bowling Green highlights one of Kwanzaa’s three holiday colors.

Orange, Highland County’s Blue Grass and the numerous Yellow Branches streaming through Virginia could join in celebrating the Hindu gift-giving festival Pancha Ganapati. The colors represent the powers of Ganesha, the elephant-headed lord of culture and the arts.

Muslims looking forward to Eid ul-Adha in 2006 with its days of sacrifice and prayer could pay tribute to those completing their hajj in Fauquier County’s Pilgrims Rest or Patrick County’s Charity.

Frosts Mill Estates residents shiver in Clarke County. Evergreen Hills rolls through Washington County. Winter Harbor in Mathews County offers safety from the dreary cold.

Noel, whose former postmistress marked thousands of letters every Christmas season with commemorative stamps until the office closed in 1969, sits north of Ashland in Hanover County.

Sing “fa-la-la” in Roanoke’s Carol Heights.

Berryville is home to Holy Cross Abbey, itself home to the Trappist monks’ holiday fruitcakes. Christchurch sits in Middlesex County.

One hopes there are at least three knowledgeable men in Wise.

Suffolk boasts two Bethlehems where residents pay taxes: the neighborhoods of Bethlehem Court and Bethlehem Terrace.

To glimpse Comet, the only one of Santa’s reindeer represented in Virginia in the GNIS database, hoof it to Isle of Wight, decorated with two Holly Points.

Santa makes a single appearance in Virginia. Spanish explorers knew the Chesapeake Bay as “Bahia de Santa Maria.” The USGS cites as its source Mary R. Miller’s “Place-Names of the Northern Neck of Virginia from John Smith’s 1606 map to the present.”

So, yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa. Just no Claus.


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