Residents here hang pigs on their Christmas trees. If you don't believe me, ask Jim Abicht, owner of The Christmas Store on Main Street in Smithfield, Virginia.
"In a town that calls itself the Ham Capital of the World, it's one of the necessities of doing business," he admits sheepishly.
Hamming It Up
This town has long been famous for Smithfield ham, that salt-cured, ruby-hued delicacy that defines the flavor of Virginia. Smithfield hugs the banks of the Pagan River, a marsh-fringed tributary of the mighty James. Though just 30 miles west of Norfolk, Smithfield seems a world away from the region's bigger cities.
Huge, dreamy houses line Church Street, the road that traces the serpentine path of the river as it leads into town. Most of the shops congregate around Main Street, which branches off Church and runs from northwest to southeast through town. Brick sidewalks and wrought iron street signs lend character to the thriving business district.
An Old-fashioned Christmas
When it comes to the holidays, the folks in Smithfield celebrate with style. An oh-so-jolly Santa makes appearances at downtown businesses. On the second Saturday in December, the town sponsors an old-fashioned Christmas parade with Boy Scouts, dance troops, and marching bands.
It's also the perfect time to explore the stores and antiques shops. Stop by The Genuine Smithfield Ham Shoppe for a taste of the town's most famous product. In addition to whole and sliced hams, they sell Virginia peanuts and pig collectibles.
At The Christmas Store this year, Jim Abicht offers the eighth in his series of Smithfield ornaments, as well as his custom-designed version with an anthropomorphic pig hanging its stockings by the chimney with care.
Don't miss Wharf Hill Antiques, an exquisite shop housed in the town's original hardware store. Owner Judy Begland artfully blends antique pieces with modern home and garden accessories.
When you've shopped until your feet ache, head over to the Smithfield Inn. Warm up with a bowl of Brunswick Stew ($5.95) or Cream of Peanut Soup ($5.95), and then sink your teeth into a sweet potato roll piled high with Smithfield ham ($1.50). It's a very Virginia way to kick off the holiday season.
For more information:
Contact the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce, (757) 357-3502, www.theisle.org, or www.smithfield-virginia.com. Where to stay: Smithfield Station ($79-$225) features 22 rooms with water views; (757) 357-7700. At the Smithfield Inn ($85-$335), you can choose from five suites or the garden house; (757) 357-1752.