Christmas in Appalachia

Christmas treeWhile I suppose we were relatively modern when it came to my childhood Christmases, the old-timey traditions are still hanging on in the mountains. And there are some I very much think we should revive for broader use. Here are a few of my favorite Appalachian Christmas traditions:

VISITING – My 85-year-old cousin and I were lamenting the fact that no one visits anymore. It was customary throughout the year, but especially on Christmas day. The idea was to simply get out and see your neighbors. In my experience, the older folks stayed at home awaiting company while the younger ones did the traveling. You didn’t stay long, but there were refreshments–fruitcake, cider, cookies–and it was bad luck not to partake lest you spoil the Christmas Spirit.

CHRISTMAS GIFT – If you go a bit further back, there was a tradition of carrying small gift items like candies in your pockets as you went visiting. If you met another visitor the first one to say, “Christmas Gift,” would win a gift from the other.

DECORATIONS – There was plenty of greenery to be had–pine, holly, or even bittersweet–and it was simple enough to cut a tree. Decorating the tree was another matter. Common decorations included popcorn strings, paper chains, seed pods wrapped in the foil from chewing gum wrappers, gingerbread cookies, and scraps of bright fabric.

SERENADIN’ – No, not caroling. The idea was to gather as many noise-making items as you could lay your hands on–cowbells, shotguns, pots and pans, etc. A group of serenaders would then sneak up on a neighbor’s house after bedtime and commence to making as much racket as possible. The neighbor would light a candle or two and invite the seranaders in for refreshments. If the neighbor heard the group before they got started, he’d fire off a shotgun to let them know they’d been “caught.” And then he’d invite them in for cider anyway!

A CANDLE IN THE WINDOW – This had a couple of meanings. First, it was a welcome for visitors or even strangers–light for the path and warmth for the feet. Second, it indicated that the Holy Family would be welcome and wouldn’t have to sleep in the stable.

TALKING ANIMALS – Okay, so this is just superstition. I think. The idea is that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals can talk. I actually worked this one into The Sound of Rain with Judd remembering a time he and his brother Joe snuck out to the barn in hopes of chatting with the family’s livestock.

So if you see me next Tuesday, watch out. When I holler “Christmas gift,” I’ll be expecting a little something. And in turn, I’ll be sure to tell you what Thistle had to say at midnight the night before.

10 thoughts on “Christmas in Appalachia

  1. When I was growing up–not in Appalachia –we would all visit on Christmas Eve. But no one was home! Everyone was visiting someone else. So one year my Mom invited all the family to our house on Christmas Eve. It became a tradition from then on. It wa a lot of work, but worth it!

  2. I recall us visiting friends & family all week between Christmas & New Years & it was so much fun. Yes, the cookies & candy were fun & somehow we always had room for more!!! Sad that this tradition has gone by the wayside. Merry Christmas.

  3. Oh, do we EVER NEED to go back to these fun Holiday traditions!! I really
    miss them as I lived in Appalachia ALL
    of my childhood. My Gpa was a preacher & he/Gma had 10 “kids” ~
    On CHRISTmas eve all the kids &
    their families met at the Parsonage to spend the nite & wait for Santa..
    There was people sleeping everyhere~
    Sleeping bags/air mattresses/couch/
    3-4 kids in one bed…Tradition was Gpa would slip @ AFTER all were sound asleep..he tied together men’s pants legs in a knot… especially those new to our family…there was ALOT of laughter when the men (unsuspecting) tried to jump into their pants in the am so no one would see them in their
    boxers…usually falling which brought only MORE attention to themselves!🤣
    Gpa left all a Hersheys Chocolate bar
    & the older Gkids taught the younger
    ones to slip @ & collect the adults candy for themselves! 😃
    Thx for the remeniscing!! Merry CHRISTmas & God’s Blessings in
    2019!! 🎄

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