Appalachia Through My Eyes - Holly Trees
Appalachia Through My Eyes - Christmas Folklore

Christmas 1933

Today's guest post was written by Charles Fletcher. Read it to see what Christmas was like when Charles was a boy living in Haywood County, NC.

Christmas in Appalachia 1933

Christmas 1933 written by Charles Fletcher.

We would start getting ready for Christmas in the late fall when the chinquapins started opening. We would gather the small chinquapins and let them dry. They would be part of our Christmas tree decorations when the time came to put up a Christmas tree.

As Christmas drew near the two churches in our area would begin to get their Christmas programs together. There was the Baptist church that we attended and the Methodist church. They would plan their programs so that everyone could attend both programs. We were all neighbors, and we all shared the things that happened in our community. It would be nice if it were the same today. The church leaders would ask the children to do the acting in the Christmas plays. Usually it would be the young girls who acted the parts. We boys were a little shy, and besides, the older boys would tease us if we took part in anything that included girls.

Mom began planning what we were going to have for Christmas dinner. This meal was one of few at which we were to have some sort of meat to go along with the canned beans and the potatoes from the cellar. We would also have sweet potatoes, big biscuits (cat heads), thick milk gravy, and of course one of Mom's special stack cakes. These cakes were made with homemade cane syrup and cooked dried apples. They were about ten or twelve layers high. If some of our neighbors killed a beef, we would have stew beef for the meat. If we were not having beef, we would eat a goose that we would buy from Bert Robinson. He was the janitor at the Beaver Dam School. The price for a goose was somewhere from 50 cents to a dollar. It depended on how large the goose was.

One week before Christmas it was time to get a Christmas tree. Getting a tree was TJ's (my brother) and my job. We would get an axe, and off to the woods we would go. This was not a very hard job because there were plenty of pines and spruce trees to choose from. The tree had to be about five feet tall with plenty of limbs on it.

While we were out looking for the Christmas tree, the girls were busy with their job of getting the decorations ready for the tree. They strung the chinquapins using a darning needle and thread. These strings of chinquapins were garlands for hanging on the tree. The girls would make paper rings out of different colored paper that Dad had brought home from the paper mill. These too would be put together to make a paper chain to hang on the tree.

Next came a fun part for Mom and the girls. Sometimes TJ and I would help too. We would pop a couple large pans of popcorn and string the popcorn into long strands. After we made the strings of popcorn we dyed them different colors. This was done by dipping the strands of corn into different natural dyes. We used pokeberry to make a red dye. We made a brown dye from walnut hulls, and we got a green dye from the bark of several trees.

After we made and hung all our decorations we would make a star from cardboard and place it in the top of the tree. Everything was now in place and we had one of the prettiest Christmas trees in the entire community.

Hanging the stockings from the fireplace mantle was not an easy job, because we usually didn't wear any socks. We wore our shoes without socks. After searching through the house we would each find a sock to put above the fireplace, even if it wasn't one of our own.

On Christmas Eve everyone was excited. We would go to bed a lot earlier than usual. Santa Clause could come at any time, and if anyone was up and about in the house, he might fly on by and not stop. We would lie really quiet in bed listening for the bells on his sleigh. We would try to stay awake as long as we could so that we might hear Santa coming to our house.

On Christmas morning we children were the first ones to get out of bed and go into the sitting room where the tree and our stockings were. Presents would be under the tree, they each had a name on them. The girls opened theirs first. The youngest was first. Inside her package was a pretty new dress and some underwear. Then it was the next girl's turn. Would you believe it-she also had a new dress and some underwear. I don't know if they were store bought or if Mom had made them from flour sacks.

Next it was time for TJ and me to open our brown paper bags. TJ was first; he had a new pair of denim pants and a blue cotton shirt. Then I opened my bag, and I got the same things TJ did-pants and a shirt. We were happy with our gifts. We usually got overalls. We were getting older and we wanted to dress differently than the little boys.

Then we went directly to the fireplace to check our stockings. Each one had the same things in it: a couple sticks of candy, an apple and an orange. The dresses, pants, and shirts were forgotten now.

"Don't you kids eat any of that yet!" my Mother hollered. "You'll spoil your breakfast and we have a good one this morning."

We went to the long wooden table where there were hot biscuits, fried eggs, milk gravy, apple sauce, and home made country sausage that Mom had canned when we killed a hog last fall. This sure was great eating. After breakfast we went back to our candy. Soon it was dinner-time, and we went back to the long table for a special Christmas meal.

It would be another year before this would take place again. We were all happy; no one was sick; we had enough to eat; and most of all, we loved each other. We were thankful for what we had. During these hard times in the early 1930s a lot of people had less than we did.

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I hope you enjoyed Charles's childhood memories as much as I did-leave him a comment and I'll make sure he reads it.

Tipper

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Comments

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Thanks Tipper and Charles for that great story sure wish things were like that today, I used to look forward to a great Christmas with the family but not much any more, when I was still working I just wanted it over quick as possible so things could get back to normal. Charles you wouldn't happen to have a recipe for those cat head biscuits would you?

I remember the colored paper rings well. We'd make just enough of them for the days until Christmas and hang them from the side of the arch into the living room. We'd tear one off each day, and when there was one left, we'd know that the next time we woke up, it would be Christmas morning. It was great fun!!!

God bless.

RB
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I enjoyed reading this post. Nice memories of a Christmas past.

I loved to get that colored paper from the mill. Great reminder. Nana

I loved this story Tipper! I had to google "chinquapins" which are from the chestnut tree and I have some nuts looking just like them in the store bought bag I purchased. I can't wait to open and taste them!

I love the no frills Christmas with the emphasis on the right reason for Christmas.
Smiles, Cyndi

Thanks for sharing charles's Christmas story. Brings back stories that my folks told of their childhood. We never had fancy or expensive presents but had plenty to eat and always had family.

Tipper,
What a great story of the coming
of Christmas! I love Charles' early life stories. Childhood
brings out the best of us and I'd
like to thank you both for sharing
that part of his life. My parents
came from those early years too.
Dad of 1910 and mama three years
later. I was the last of six boys
so I only heard the stories they
handed down. Nowadays its the
remembering of a more simple time
for me and I cherish these memories...Ken

This was a great Christmas story! Every Christmas that I have lived through was beautiful. Presents,food, money whatever are always secondary to the love present when we were all together with our family.

Got ahead of myself! Merry Christmas to Charles and family!

Thanks Charles and Tipper, a very heartwarming story! What a lesson for us today. Simple gifts, health, good food and loving families are what it's all about. We should count our blessings every day and be very grateful for what we have.

Wonderful story, simply written as memories poured out. Where did that Christmas go? Thank you, Charles. Thank you, Tipper. Merry Christmas to you. Merry Christmas to all the Blind Pig world.

Thanks for sharing this story. I can just imagine Charles lying in that bed, not making a sound, listening for those bells!

Tipper,
and Charles...what a wonderful story of Christmas past...
My Dad was born in 1911 and told of stockings with an orange, apple and if lucky a peppermint stick, storebought nuts (not the ones from the mountain, real almonds), and once in a while a whistle or a wooden homemade toy...
Wasn't until he was older that he got his first shotgun for Christmas...
Loved this story .... I too wish we could go back to a less materialized time in life...except I think I would miss all the beautiful Christmas lights...LOL
Thanks Tipper and Charles

I loved this story. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, but then there is nothing like hearing how things were back then. They didn't have much but they new how to appreciate what they had.

I really enjoyed reading about your Christmas, Charles. My parents have shared similar stories of Christmas during their childhood. My mother says she remembers one year that she and her sisters each got a little china doll. The heads and the hands were made of china and the body was made from cloth. They usually didn't get toys but were lucky to get a new dress or underwear. They were thrilled to get the apples and oranges and stick candy and looked forward to it all year. We all have so much now that it is hard to find a gift for someone that they don't already have. As you can tell from your post that the best part of Christmas is not what you receive, but the joy of being with family and loved ones. I hope that you have a Christmas as warm and and filled with love as the ones you remember from your childhood.

Wonderful to read, shows us how far most has come over the years, this Christmas we may need to all ( as the ole hymn says) "Count your blessings name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done. Enjoyed it.

This brings so many memeories of my Dad telling about Christmas in Haywood County. 1933 was his last Christmas there. He was 15 that year. The next year, they moved to Lenoir as he was 16 and needed to work to support his Mom and Dad. There were jobs in the furniture factory that paid good for a 16 year old boy. They attended the Baptist Church. He would tell about the Christmas programs at church. He would go out and gather chestnuts for them to have at Christmas. My Aunt who was older, told of popping corn and stringing it, making the paper chains. By 1933, she was working in Canton with the oldest sister. Their stockings would have an orange and peppermint sticks. They are all gone on to a better place but the memories are still sweet. Barbara

I found your memories so much fun to read --the closeness of your family sure did com thru the words you have written--I had to smile about having to go to bed or Santa would fly on by---that saying still got used in my parents home in the 50's and 60's and then I used it too for my little ones---Thanks again for sharing and I hope you still have as much love to pass around in this year to your loved ones.

This brings back warm memories. That young man could have been me growing up on the head of Wiggins Creek in the 50's. Except we had a wood heater instead of a fireplace. And socks. We always wore socks. Socks with holes. But socks. That is until May 1st, then no socks no shoes.
And no Goose!

I really enjoyed Charles' reminiscence. I think there is too much focus on materialism these days. Charles and his family probably would not have been happier if they had had a million dollars in the bank. Nicer gifts, maybe, but happier? Probably not.

It was great reading this! Reminds me what it might have been like when my parents were young! Thanks for sharing Charles!

that breakfast menu brings back fond memories of kentucky eating. I had my first milk gravy at age 10 and fell in love with it and the biscuits. this is certainly a far cry from today's Christmas. i would like to be somewhere in between the two.

What a wonderful memory! It is so great that the magic and religious beauty of Christmas remains in your heart. Merry Christmas!

Thanks for sharing that story from Charles. We truly are spoiled today. My mama reminds me every Christmas that she recalls only getting an apple and orange and (if you were lucky)a piece of candy cane. While there is certainly nothing wrong with providing our family with gifts, we do seem to overdo it these days. We hear so much from Washington about how bad things are (and I know they are for many), but when you watch the tv and see all those people spending, spending, spending it makes you wonder just how widespread the economic crisis is. Ok off the soap box. Merry Christmas to all!

Loved this so much..sharing it with my dad who grew up in the Ky Appalachian area around the same era. He always talked about chinquapins, I am sure he would enjoy this,

Thank you Mr. Charles for your Christmas memory story. It reminds me so much of my parent's stories of Christmas---which always centered on family and sharing and happiness.

Thank you so much for this post, Charles and Tipper.
It brings back a lot of good memories or my early Christmasess at home, during the 1950's and 60's.
We usually got 2 gifts, clothing and a book or item we could use.
Things were simpler, and as Charles stated, it would be good if that spirit of love and family closeness was still there.

Charles, that was a wonderful tale of your early Christmas. Thank you for sharing it. I especially love how you kids were so thankful for the important things-- the love of your family. This is how Christmas should be.

What an enjoyable read Tipper and thank you Charles for sharing your Christmas memories with us. Your family and community sound so special and happy. I had to smile when you said you had to go to bed early because if you were still up, Santa Claus might fly on by and not stop. I will remember that for my grandchildren.

Merry Christmas to you Charles and to Tipper and family. May 2012 be filled with happiness and good health.
Sam

A wonderful story to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. No Black Friday, endless shopping or anxiety that Christmas produces in most people today.

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