Sugarplum and Five Other Words You Hear Every Christmas and Still Can't Define

The holidays are full of tradition, family and the familiar comforts of a beautiful home. We celebrate the season with food, song, and beloved stories. Suddenly, we find ourselves singing, saying and hearing words and phrases we rarely use at any other time of the year. For many of us, we aren't even sure what they mean. In fact, they’re all very much about the idea of home. 

1. Newel Post

Once you’ve seen it, can anyone ever forget the scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Chevy Chase as would-be-Santa-fix-it-man Clark Griswold whistles Joy to the World while wielding a McCulloch 610. As he neatly beheads the wobbly post at the top of the stairs, he delivers the famous one-liner, “Fixed the newel post!”

That newel post was important and deserved far better than the chainsaw treatment. Newel posts are vital anchors for staircases. They’re often noted for making an eye-catching style statement thanks to specialty moulding and millwork. They’re also essential elements that help bear the weight of the stairway and support the handrail. You’ll find newels at the very bottom of a staircase, at the top, and at any other points where stairs change direction or lengthy sections require some additional stability.

In between the newels are balusters, which are usually smaller, finer and spaced more closely together. These, too, help support the handrail, tying it to the rising treads to make a structurally sound staircase capable of bearing weight. Finished in rich natural hardwoods, trims and mouldings, newel posts and coordinated stair parts can also add distinctive symmetry, focal interest and architectural character to both elegant interiors and stately exteriors.


2. Sash

We all know the first lines: “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Several lines later, we hear, “Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.” It all rhymes nicely, but what exactly is that sash, and why was someone tearing open shutters?

Actually, that’s early 19th century prose describing how to open a window in a hurry in the winter of 1822. At that time, a window was a complex affair, with small panes of wavy glass individually set into muntins. This gridwork of glass and wood in turn sat in a sash. By the early 1800s, most windows were single-hung. They had an upper sash of window panes that was fixed and a lower sash of window panes that was movable. Both sat within a frame, with the movable sash secured in place with pins. These windows weren’t insulated. They swelled in hot, humid summers and shrank in cold, dry winters, so many people had shutters on the inside that they closed at night to keep out cold drafts.

Today, windows still have sashes and frames, but they’re made of composites, vinyl, wood and fiberglass in hundreds of styles and types, from jalousies or bays to skylights and palladians. They come with double or triple panes, low-e coatings and energy efficiency options for starters. Best of all, you don’t have to open them to be able to see through them on a cold, snowy night.


3. Chimney Flues and Other Parts

Chimneys and stockings hung with care figure large in all things Christmas. However, in I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, the words promise that Santa “won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue,” so what does the flue have to do with a chimney? Plus, what about lintels and mantles, hearths and dampers, and the ominous-sounding firebox?

Looking at a fireplace, the hearth is the brick or stone fireproof area on the floor. It prevents sparks or any burning pieces of wood that fall from the firebox from spreading flames to the rest of your house. At the top of the firebox is the lintel, a horizontal support often made of brick or faced in stone. Usually several feet above that is the mantel, a decorative shelf that can display treasured items like present-laden stockings. Inside the fireplace, smoke leaves the firebox through the flue—the lined inside of the chimney. A damper situated between the firebox and the flue allows you to control the flow of air. For Santa, be sure to leave it open.

4. Bough

Both Deck the Halls and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree celebrate “boughs of holly.” The all-time favorite Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas begs us to “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” Song lyrics and poetry love using the word simply because bough sounds so much nicer than limb or branch, which is what a bough is.

Today, boughs are still what wreaths, garlands and many other natural holiday arrangements are made of. The Pacific Northwest alone ships more than 25 million pounds of evergreen boughs around the world each holiday season. Many of the key suppliers are lumber companies who are literally branching out. Year-round, they supply cut timber, finished lumber and assorted wood products. Then, at this time of year, they’re also in the perfect position to supply boughs of fir, balsam, spruce, cedar, pine, juniper, myrtle and holly as well as whole live Christmas trees. Thanks to the holidays, nothing goes to waste, and we’re able to enjoy nature’s bounty.

santa clause eating goodies

5. Verdant

O Christmas Tree praises the deep emerald green of holiday tradition, “How are thy leaves so verdant!” The word verdant comes from the Old French vert and is associated with the vibrant green of forests. It’s suiting tribute to a Christmas tree, especially when you picture acres upon acres planted in Douglas fir, Scotch pine or spruce, for example. Christmas tree farms are devoted to growing the greenest, lushest, most beautifully formed Tannenbaums all for our holiday pleasure.

Likewise, various types of tree farms, plantations, private forests and nurseries are vital resources that provide everything from fruit, nut, shade and Christmas trees to the commercial lumber, resins and wood products we need for everyday living. To manage resources wisely, nationwide programs like the American Tree Farm System and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative promote stewardship and sound forestry practices to help keep our environment verdant and green.

christmas tree

6. Sugarplum

”Visions of sugarplums danced in their heads” in A Visit From St. Nicholas. Was this perhaps in Tchaikovsky’s mind also as he composed his Nutcracker so that the Sugarplum Fairy could flit and float to the dainty bells of the celesta in the Kingdom of Sweets? He surely had something right because he recognized that sugarplums were an exceptional treat.

Sugarplums date back to the early 1600s and were perhaps the premium sweet throughout the 19th century. Only the finest artisan confectioners mastered the secret craft of painstakingly pearling and shimmying up to 30 layers of sugar syrup into a smooth glaze over a tasty tidbit. At the heart of each delicate comfit lay a tiny seed, a perfect nut, or a precious bit of spice or orange peel, proving that it's often the little things that make the difference.

Today, sugarplum is one of those special words that instantly conjures the very essence of Christmas—the anticipation, sweetness and hope of the season. Here at Franklin Building Supply, we want to wish you the merriest of holidays and a fresh, new year. We understand that it takes those extra-special little somethings to make a house a home—sashes, newels, moulding and maybe even sugarplums. We have the perfect quality lumber and premium building supplies for any project, and we’re ready to help you turn inspiration into reality. Stop by your local store, and let our experienced consultants show you just how easy it can be to get started. Let us help you celebrate the holidays with the tradition of home.