Today is Old Christmas. Last year I shared the definition of Old Christmas from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English and I especially enjoyed the comments left on the post from January 6, 2016. I thought I'd share a few of them with you today.
B. Ruth said:
Tipper, I had a friend who had a family up North....I think it was Pennsylvania that celebrated Old Christmas. Since school had already started back after the Christmas 25th holidays...Her family would go to their Grandmothers on or near January 6th. I always thought that she was so lucky that she got to have two Christmases. They celebrated the Epiphany, the night the Kings brought gifts to Jesus.. I remember my Aunt left her tree up until after Old Christmas. I always thought she just did it until all her nieces and nephews could make the visit to her house during the holidays...ha Yes, she left our little presents under the tree until we made it there...Later years, she mailed them if we couldn't make it because of weather over the mountains. "Remember not to lend anything today, if you want or need it returned." My Grandmother always said this during the Christmas holidays, not specifying the January 6th date...I wonder if she was just passing down folklore and couldn't remember the exact date! I have read since that it is said to be true on Old Christmas.
Ron Stephens said:
If memory serves (and I trust it less as time goes by) I did hear Old Christmas spoken of, but rarely, when I was a boy over 50 years ago. But it was not with reference to having a celebration. I think it was about the legends or superstitions regarding it. I am intrigued by why the old Julian calendar should have such a persistent influence in Appalachia. (Assuming that it was unique in that respect.) There must be logical reasons for it. As someone who pokes around in genealogy (as opposed to being a real genealogist). I run into dates before 1752 being noted as "o s." or 'old style'. I think it is fair to say that traditionally Appalachian folks had a different approach to time. Times that mattered were seasons, daylight and dark and time to eat. Hours and minutes were generally un-important. Thoreau in "Walden" remarks how hours and minutes had become of great importance with the coming of the railroad. He said that 'railroad time' had become the latest fashion. We've seen it in our lifetimes. Life tends to move at the speed of communications and transportation. We feel the stress of ever-faster and look back with nostalgia at the simpler times.
Melissa P (misplaced southerner) said:
When I was a little girl, I heard of Old Christmas from my great-aunts and uncles. My parents' generation never talked of it or celebrated it, but we did always leave our decorations up past January 6. My guess is that more than celebrating Old Christmas, is was easier to plan time to take everything down than around the party season.
Barb Wright said:
The Amish celebrate old Christmas. In fact, I went to the Amish bulk food store and the feed store where we shop yesterday, because I knew they would be closed today. I don't know of anyone else that celebrates it. Maybe someone else does? Interesting anyhow!
I had never even heard of Old Christmas before I started the Blind Pig and The Acorn, so I certainly never knew anyone who celebrated the day.
Ron's comment about the measure of time makes me wish all we had to worry about in today's modern world were the seasons, daylight, dark, and when to eat.
The Pressley Girls - Morning Song at the JCCFS
In the early 1900s, folks living in the mountains of North Carolina lengthened the holiday season by celebrating the two weeks following Christmas. They called it Breaking Up Christmas.
Residents in the community would host a series of house parties. Each night the party would be held in a different home and the musicians and party goers would follow the route merry making until the wee hours of the morning.
Folks hosting the party would clear the rooms of their house to make room for dancing. Sometimes the only space left for the musicians to play was standing in the door way. The days following Christmas can feel empty which makes it easy to see why breaking up Christmas became a popular tradition in certain areas.
I had never heard of the celebration until I stumbled upon it as I was researching Christmas traditions in Appalachia back when I first started the Blind Pig and The Acorn. Since traditional music and dance have played a huge role in my life I was immediately drawn to the idea of breaking up Christmas.
The Christmas holiday always offers up more opportunities than usual for music making around the Blind Pig house. While we haven't been traveling the party-route we have been enjoying some mighty fine music sessions.
Now that the nephews live a far piece away we always try to gang up and play whenever they come home. Mandolin man was the only one that got to come home for Christmas this year. We had a great day of music making with him and wished his brother could have been there as well.
The girls have also made real progress on their first cd. The tracks for two more songs have been laid down this week and we are very excited about that music.
My dream Breaking up Christmas Party would be to travel around to each of your homes and make music till you threw us out shouting out the location of the next party on the route as we packed up the car. Since I can't make that happen-I'll share a video from The Pressley Girls that was filmed the day before Christmas.
I hope you enjoyed the song! It's another original composed by Chitter titled Ruby in the Kitchen. She wrote it about our dog Ruby Sue who searches through the kitchen floor looking for crumbs in a very amusing manner.
p.s. I'll be doing some more breaking up Christmas over on the Blind Pig and The Acorn Facebook page today-sharing some of my favorite videos from the blog.
The Pressley Girls - Pine Log NC
serenade noun, serenading verbal noun
1 A raucous, spontaneous celebration after a wedding, usu late on the wedding night and at the residence of the newly married couple, characterized by the beating of post and pans, ringing of cowbells, and various pranks
2 A similar celebration moving from house to house in the community on Christmas Eve or other holiday.
1939 Hall Coll. Cades Cove TN Serenadin' = men would go from one house to another, makin' lots of noise, ringin' cowbells, shootin' guns. (Cora Myers) 1960 Mason Memoir 75 On Christmas eve night, it was customary for a group of young men to gather up and go serenading. We would take along all the old cowbells, muzzle loading shotguns, horns, and any other noise making device which was available. There were always three or four banjoes and fiddles in the crowd. We would try to slip up to someone's house without being discovered. The serenade would usually begin with a long blast from a trumpet. The trumpets were usually made from rams horns. Then the firing of the shotguns combined with the ringing cowbells added to the commotion. If a family were somehow missed by the serenaders, they felt as if they had been slighted.
The photo above was taken on a hot July night just over the mountain in Pine Log. The girls were doing some serenading, but not in the manner the dictionary describes. They were playing for a dear friend's 80th birthday.
Its been several years or more since I first read the serenading entry from the dictionary. Since that time, I've dreamed about going out serenading on Christmas Eve or at least at some point during the holiday season. Although my dream hasn't been fulfilled yet, I'm hopeful that someday it will and I'm sure The Pressley Girls will be along for the trip.
It think our Christmas tree was the prettiest one we've ever had! The girls and The Deer Hunter will tell you I say that every year. It's true I do say it every year and its true that I believe the tree to be the prettiest we've ever had.
When I was growing up Granny was never picky about when she took the tree down. Seems like she left it up till the first of January and Paul's birthday-he was born on New Year's Day.
The Deer Hunter and Papaw Tony left their tree decorated year round. They pulled it out of the attic when Christmas rolled around and stuck it back in the attic when Christmas was over.
We put our Christmas tree up right after Thanksgiving-typically the following weekend. By the day after Christmas I'm ready for it to come down.
Every year after Christmas I have the strong urge to Spring clean the house. I clean out closets and cabinets, move furniture, and change curtains. Getting the house in order seems to brighten the house after the chore of putting up Christmas until next year. And when Spring rolls around I'm too anxious to be out in the garden to think about cleaning anyway.
The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore has some confusing folklore to instruct you on when the Christmas tree and other decorations should be taken down.
- take Christmas decorations down before the month is out or misfourtune will come to the house
- never leave the Christmas tree up over New Years or it will bring bad luck
- it is bad luck to take Christmas decorations down before Old Christmas (Jan 6) or to leave them up afterwards
- Christmas decorations left hanging after 12th night (old Christmas) bring bad luck
My Christmas tree is still up, but I'm thinking I'll take it down in the next day or two.
The days following Christmas are called ruling days because they are supposed to dictate the weather for the coming year. The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has this to say about Ruling Days:
The twelve days beginning on Christmas day, each one of which is said to govern the weather for one month of the following year. 1905 Miles Spirit of Mts 107 But he and Arth do not disagree about certain weather signs their mother had taught them when they were "shirt-tail boys," signs about Groundhog Day, for example, and the Ruling Days, the twelve days from the twenty-fifth of December to Old Christmas, each of which rules the weather of a month of the coming year.
My Christmas was unusually warm so I guess there goes my chance for a snowy January.
For weeks my annoying brain has kept reminding me this would be the first Christmas in my entire life without Pap.
I started dreading the holiday season something fierce way back in the summer.
At Thanksgiving we made it fine even though I felt like we all tip-toed around and made double sure not to talk about Pap-or maybe that was just me that was tip-toeing because I was afraid of the wall of grief that I expected to cover us all.
I knew Christmas would be harder than Thanksgiving. How could we possibly have Christmas without Pap? I mean who'd use their pocket-knife to open all of their gifts; who'd bless the food and remind us how lucky we were to be blessed with one another as well as the hope of eternal life; who'd tease the girls and listen to the boys banter with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face?
I despaired over finding out that Christmas without Pap just wasn't Christmas at all.
Have you ever dreaded something like a shot in the arm or a trip to the dentist or having stitches removed only to discover the event you'd built up in your mind wasn't nearly as bad as you had it made out to be?
When Chitter was about nine years old she needed a shot in the arm. She cried and fussed when the doctor told us and when the nurse came back in to give the shot we had to set her on the counter and hold her. Right when the nurse inserted the needle Chitter reached out and pinched her, I guess she was going to make sure the nurse suffered a little too. Chitter then quickly started laughing hysterically because she realized the shot wasn't such a big deal after all.
That's what I found out about Christmas. Even without Pap it is still wonderful because he was right: We have one another and are so blessed in so many ways. And while I didn't notice anyone using a pocket knife to open their gifts, there was plenty of teasing, bantering, smiling, and joyful exuberance over the real reason for the season from a family who loves each other in a mighty way-just like Pap taught us to.
Drop back by tomorrow and I'll share my favorite gift with you. It came from way up north in Vermont and was made by folks I've never met nor seen.
Sending wishes for a very Merry Christmas to each of you from all of us here at the
Blind Pig and The Acorn.
Granny with her mother Gazzie 1963 - Ranger NC
Christmas gift, interjection
2 Merry Christmas! in a Christmas day ritual: usu the first person to say this is owed a token gift from the person greeted; hence as noun = this ritual. See esp 1942, 1981 citations.
1942 Thomas Blue Ridge 159 The young folks of the community go from home to home, bursting in with a cherry "Christmas gift!" Those who have been taken unaware, though it happens the same way each year, forgetting, in the pleasant excitement of the occasion, to cry the greeting first, must pay a forfeit of something good to eat - cake, homemade taffy, popcorn, apples, nuts. 1973 GSMNP-61:8 If you could sneak up, so we were out before daylight and if you could get Christmas gift on them, they had to give you something, which was usually apples or stick candy. 1974 Ogle Memories 58 Christmas morning, the folks would let me get up any time I wanted to and go to someone's house and holler, "Christmas-Give!" The first person to the house who hollered, "Christmas-Give," got candy. 1974 Russel Hillbilly 48 We were pleased upon arising, if we could be the first to say, "Christmas gift" to other members of the family, even though we knew we wouldn't receive the gift that was supposed to be forthcoming. 1974 Purkey Madison Co 63 Mama had a zest for living. She got us children up early on Christmas morning and we would steal out to our nearest neighbor's house and "serenade" them by banging pots and pans together and setting off firecrackers, which my oldest brothers somehow always contrived to get. Then we all yelled in unison, "Christmas Gift!" 1981 Brewer Wonderment 34 If you said "Christmas gift" to somebody on Christmas morning before they said it to you, they had to give you a present before the end of the day. 1986 Ogle Lucinda 44 When we got Christmas gift on her she would pass a plate of sweetbread and a box of mixed peppermint and horehound candy around to us.
When I was growing up the very first thing Granny would do on Christmas morning was call her sisters and say "Christmas Gift" loudly into the phone. Some years one of her sisters would beat her to the punch and call her first.
Once our gifts were opened on Christmas morning we went to Granny's mother, Gazzie's house to eat Christmas Dinner. Throughout the evening a stream of people would drop by to visit. One bunch would say their goodbyes and then before you knew it they were replaced with the next bunch coming in the front door. It seemed every time the door opened to a new face-someone would shout "Christmas Gift" at them.
I never gave the little game Granny and her family played every Christmas much thought when I was growing up. It was only after I started the Blind Pig and The Acorn that I learned the ritual was actually wide spread throughout the mountains of Appalachia.
I've never actually played the game myself, but I'm thinking this is a good year to start. Granny will need a little dose of laughter on this first Christmas without Pap, actually we all will. In the morning I'm going to call Granny and shout Christmas Gift at her and I think I'll at least text it to Paul and Steve.
Today's guest post was written by John Carlton Templeton.
Photo - Archives of the City of Kingsport
“The Pit of Christmas”
By John Carlton Templeton
December 13, 2014
A railroad is a cold being—cold, hard and noisy. Its steely guides run for miles through rural paradises and the backsides of big cities and never speak, never turn to catch a scarlet maple ablaze on a fall morning, never slow to comfort a sodden vagrant asleep under a stack of damp cardboard. The snarling blaze of its of its steam boiler never warms a raggedy mountain family but dismissively urges its massive engine onward through the next crossing, into the next station and beyond. A hissing, spouting, growling, titanic engine drives past flat-footed onlookers splashing icy terror onto their faces. Its pounding pistons and thrashing drive arms can tear through a stalled pickup truck and not slow by a single mph. And yet . . . and yet the merciless chill of an unthinking beast can be turned by the mind and hand of a caring people into a means of hope, a moment of joy and an opportunity for kindness.
At no other time on the calendar are loneliness and deprivation felt more sharply than at Christmas. The season itself for much of America is one of dark, short days, bitter winds and frosty awakenings. For the denizens of Appalachia, despair is a daily battle. Despite the spiritual trappings and rewarding introspection of true Christmas, it is difficult to understate the heartening effects and the psychic warmth generated by modern decorations--tall buildings hosting giant, luminescent stars, parks displaying huge lighted trees and electric reindeer drawing a frolicking sleigh across suburban rooftops.
Such sights are not so common in the isolated mountain communities of Appalachia. Families are large and, though love abounds in such broods, scarcity is often its companion. So it was with my family. Seeking lower rents, my father, a factory worker, had moved Mama and the seven children to a comfortable but spare frame house on a hill overlooking the Holston River in Hawkins County. Uphill about 50 yards, the tracks the Clinchfield Railroad coursed past our house on its way to Kingsport and points south. The winter routine of arising early, getting dressed and trudging across the tracks and over Clark’s Hill to the local three-room schoolhouse two miles away quickly became the order of the day in our new home. A child of eight, of course, does not evaluate the plumbness of walls, the pitch of the floors or the R-value of insulation. A roof and four walls, if it is hosted by a comforting mother and dutiful father, is enough. In winter, childhood friendships and recreation are centered on the school and the weekly gathering at church. School was also the focus of community activities and information. And so it was that from a schoolmate I heard a most fantastic revelation.
“Are you going to meet the Santa Train when it comes?” he asked with the casual assuredness that almost removes any doubt.
In 1953, the Santa Train had already been making its magical journey for ten years. Between Christmas Seasons, the primary purpose of the Clinchfield Railroad was to haul coal out of the mountains of eastern Kentucky to as far south as Spartanburg, SC, from its beginning in Elkhorn City, KY. On its northward journey, it carried, among other things, woven goods from the mills of the Piedmont. A profitable and socially useful enterprise demands no other validation for, as is said in the law, res ipsa loquitur. And yet, the owners of the CRR were intimately aware of the plight of Appalachia. They could see from the coaches of their passenger trains and from the cabs and cabooses of the freights the poverty, the lack of opportunity for jobs and education, the absence of infrastructure and the frailty of the hardscrabble farm culture. Joining with other industrialists and the chambers of commerce of the towns along their route, they undertook to bring a ray of light to the mountaineers. Each year they would run a train along their route featuring Santa Claus dispensing candy, toys, yuletide music and, of course, the polar laughter of the jolly old elf himself. After consulting with the extroverted eskimo saint, a date near Thanksgiving was chosen for the excursion to avoid cutting into Santa Claus’ busiest month.
I quickly absorbed the history of the Santa Train and promised myself to take part in this enchanting ritual when it next arrived. As the date approached, I grilled friend and family about the details—what time, where to stand, which side of the tracks, how best to pick up the loot, carry a bag or wear an pocketed apron, competition from others—I wanted to know it all and be prepared.
Even at 8 years I was familiar with the railroad bed. The tracks came out of Sensabaugh Tunnel about 300 yards to the right of the path and between the mouth of the tunnel and the crossing at Detour Hill Road, the tracks made a swooping curve that ran about half a mile. There was no room to stand on the high side of the track as the bed was cut into the side of the hill. As the coal-laden trains came out of the tunnel and hit the curve, they were wont to shed a few of the larger lumps of coal that rode uneasily at the top of the load. Over the life of the railroad, this ebony jetsam formed a thick layer of coal along the outside of the tracks giving rise, in turn, to a minor industry for a few of the locals. They dug up the coal placing it in burlap bags to carry home to fuel their fireplaces and Warm Morning heaters.
Principal among the coal-baggers was one Earl Roberts. Earl was the only son in a peculiar family that included three sisters, a mother and a father. To call Earl’s father, Amos, eccentric was to demonstrate the shortcomings of the English tongue. Today’s designation of “weird” comes no closer to being adequate. The reclusive and odd behavior of the family quickly made 14 year-old Earl the butt of many jokes and the victim of a volume of dirty tricks and minor abuse. Chief among the tormenters was my older brother, Ted. Nonetheless, Earl suffered the bullying quietly and almost good-naturedly. He was a tall, somewhat S-shaped lad with black hair that usually hung over one eye causing him to repeatedly sling his head in a circular motion to send it back to the top of his head. His teeth were white but large yet not easily contained by his bulbous lips. Earl was the ultimate outsider. Local hearsay had it that his family was Melungeon. Despite the inconsiderate treatment by Ted, he was not reluctant to stop by our house as he trekked up to or back from the coal pit on dark winter’s days. Many times he would arrive conveniently at suppertime and, though we had precious little food to spare, Mama would cut a large block of cornbread and butter it. Earl would eat it as he warmed his hands by the cookstove. Refreshed, he would thank Mama quietly and head for the front porch where his coal sack awaited. Then, heaving the sack of coal over his shoulder, he would trudge into the night disappearing down the hill to the Roberts homestead by the river.
The Santa Train was scheduled to arrive at our area between 9:30 and 10 AM on November 28th. On the designated day, my brother, David, and I rose early, got dressed and with much anticipation made our way up the hill to the Clinchfield tracks. A thin layer of snow covered the ground. To our right, near the tunnel’s mouth, a small gaggle of folks was already in place. Another larger group had gathered to our left near the crossing at Detour Hill. While David moved to the left, I reckoned that, if I got closer to the tunnel but on the outside of the crowd, I’d get a good shot at some of the first bounty thrown from the caboose. After a brief wait, I could hear the flat black steam locomotive hutcha-hutcha-ing into the tunnel. The quavering wail of the whistle echoed through the tunnel and, suddenly, an ominous storm-cloud of black smoke cut by a streak of pure-white steam issued from the vent and out of the cloud the rounded end of the engine emerged lustily clanking and puffing from the tunnel.
Though it seemed to move at a crawl, it had soon loped past the first crowd. I saw a cloud of small items—Yuletide manna—spew from the back of the caboose as the crowd seemed to concentrate into a single being near the tracks. In my eagerness to get my share, I ran toward the crowd instead of holding my chosen spot. Running against the flow of the train, I suddenly realized that the caboose was swooshing past me. Still no goods! I whirled on a heel and gave chase but Santa Claus was already turning his attention to the next crowd at the road crossing. I sprinted after the shrinking train, quickly reaching a blazing pace and then, Whap! The ground disappeared from under my feet; a ragged, lumpy, black maw swallowed me up like a circus seal quaffing a fish. In my lust for loot, I had forgotten Earl’s coal pit. Disgusted, defeated, deflated, wet and covered with a black film, I dragged myself out of the pit and started for home disconsolately carrying an empty sack. Up ahead, the jubilant crowd began to turn its attention away from the receding train and toward their Christmas loot. Smiling and moving with an agitated pulse, they compared bags and held up items I could not identify from afar.
I realized that I was not so much disappointed as I was angry . . . with myself. It wasn’t the failed planning. It wasn’t the dropped pass. It wasn’t envy of the others. There was something else. As I searched my mind for a definition of what I was feeling, I saw a form separate from the crowd and walk toward me. At first, I thought it was David but, no, I had already seen him start down the path for home probably thinking I was ahead of him. By the bobbing gait, I soon realized that it was Earl Roberts. He drew near, the crowd had largely disappeared, and stood in front of me.
“Johnny, I seen you fall. That there was my pit. I shor am sorry. Did you hurt yourself?” He asked.
“No.” I stammered. “I just . . . I don’t know. I guess I just got caught up in it. I made too much of it. I don’t know.”
Earl had already gone well beyond his usual word count. Thrusting a brown paper bag at me, he continued.
“Here, you take this. Hit ain’t now use to me. My daddy calls sweets foolishness an’ I reckon they are. He won’t let ‘em in the house. I’ll just take a few pieces in my pocket for my sisters an’ you can have the rest. You can have that tin pistol, too. My daddy’ll just say I stole it. You okay to git home?”
“Yeah, I’ll be alright. Thanks, Earl.” I said absently.
I was stuck in my shoes. Something big had just happened and my meager try to understand it wasn’t getting anywhere. But I knew it was something I’d remember.
He turned and set out for home with no further comment as I stood and watched his peculiar gait carry him to the path and down the hill empty-handed.
Christmas, 1953. St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Santa Train . . . St. Earl.
I hope you enjoyed John's writing as much as I did!
A few weeks back I told you I'd share some Christmas folklore from one of my favorite books Dorie Woman of the Mountains written by Florence Cope Bush. The book was first published in 1992 and has been published at least 7 times since then if not more. In the introduction Florence Cope Bush writes
"Dorie: Woman of the Mountains was not written with the idea that it would ever be published. I wrote it as a gift to my daughter, my mother, and myself. The manuscript was in my possession for fifteen years before a friend talked me into letting him publish two thousand copies in paperback for local distribution."
The book is a biography about Bush's mother, Dorie. The story spans the years between 1898 and 1942 and is set primarily in the Smoky Mountains.
Here's an excerpt that tells of Christmas folklore that was common to Dorie:
Many legends and superstitions came to the mountains with our ancestors. One legend says that on Christmas Eve the animals talk. Bees in their hives are said to hum the melody of an ancient carol from dusk to dawn. The old people say they have heard the music of the bees and have seen cows kneel and speak. On this holy night, the plants will bloom as they did when Christ was born. Although covered with snow, underneath, the ground is covered with soft green vegetation.
Old Christmas, or January 5, is surrounded with superstitious beliefs. On this day the dawn comes twice. The first dawn comes about an hour earlier than usual, and the skies brighten until sunlight seems close. The poke weed sends up sprouts big enough for everyone to see if they're lucky enough to be awake. When dark returns, the sprouts die, then the true dawn appears. Also, the week before Christmas, roosters crow in the middle of the night, trying to make the day come sooner.
You can hear an angel sing if you're willing to pay the price. If you sit under a pine tree on Christmas Eve, angel voices will sing all around you. The price you pay for the miracle is death. You won't live to see the sun rise again.
Wear something fresh and new on Christmas, and your luck will be good. Don't wash clothes on the Friday before Christmas if you want to stay out of trouble. Don't let the fire go out on Christmas morning, or spirits will come and take you away. Don't give your friends or neighbors a match, a warm coal, or even a light to be taken out of the house. If you do you'll be giving away your hope of a good future. If you leave a piece of bread on the table after Christmas supper, you'll have enough to eat until next Christmas.
I checked out Frank C. Brown's Collection of NC Folklore to see if there were any other interesting tidbits of Christmas Folklore. Here's what I found:
- Nothing made of leather during Christmas time will be durable
- It is unlucky to carry anything away from the house on Christmas morning unless something is brought in first
- If it snows on Christmas day-the grass will be green on Easter
- A warm Christmas means a cold Easter
- If a rooster crows repeatedly at midnight he is crowing for Christmas
- Horses talk on Old Christmas (Reminds me of the first time Chatter saw a 'talking' horse on America's Funniest Videos-she said "Oh Momma I didn't know horses could talk!" She was so excited-I hated to tell her they really couldn't.)
- Water turns to blood at midnight on Old Christmas
- I discovered there are many variations to the one about animals kneeling at midnight-such as: On Old Christmas animals kneel down and face the East; On Christmas Eve at midnight Cows kneel and low; At midnight on Old Christmas all horses and cows stand up and then lie down on their other side.
The folklore about plants blooming on the Holy Night and animals kneeling are the ones I'm most familiar with. Hope you'll leave me a comment and let me know if you've ever heard any folklore mentioned above. And if that wasn't enough Christmas folklore for you, jump over to Appalachian Mountain Roots and read some more.
December in the Hills - John Parris
December in the hills is a sprig of berry-bright holly, a spray of galax, and a bouquet of mystic mistletoe.
It's the smell of woodsmoke, the dusty sweetness of the hay barn, the earthiness of a root cellar with mingled odors of potatoes and turnips and onions.
It's the rhythmic echo of an unseen axeman and the yelp of a hound after a rabbit.
It's the raucous cry and flashing wing of a bluejay in a naked woodland and the thunder of grouse exploding from the brush.
It's an old man with memories and a young man with dreams.
It's an old woman with snow in her hair and a young girl with stars in her eyes.
It's firelight and starlight.
It's the season of long nights.
It's winter talk around the hearth, the cry of a fiddle, the whack-ata-whack of a loom.
It's a lonesome tune - "One top of old Smoky, all covered with snow..."
And a happy tune - "Deck the halls with boughs of holly..."
It's home-coming cattle swinging into the lane and bringing wistful-like spells with their quaint, comforting, wandering bells.
December is a time when the darkness deepens and the winter closes in.
It's icy knuckles at the door and frost pictures on the windows.
It's an open world that invites the foot to roam and the eye to see.
It's a sky with the look of cold skim milk.
It's a country road at night with lantern light throwing golden splashes on the snow.
~ December in the Hills written by John Parris
I challenged myself to study on each line above and see if they were still accurate to the mountains of North Carolina today.
√ There is still greenery from the surrounding woods being used to brighten the season.
√ Woodsmoke-yes; hay barn-yes; root cellar-not so much.
√ Axes are still ringing and dogs are still chasing rabbits.
√ Blue jays are still fusing and grouses are still exploding-all be it a little less in my area.
√ Lots of wise old men in my neck of the woods and more than a few young men with dreams...some of which seem to like hanging around my porch.
√ Underneath the hair color Granny has snowy hair and all three of the girls in our family have starry eyes.
√ Just last week we set around a roaring fire-place with friends and walked back to the car with stars to light our way.
√ The nights of winter are still longer.
√ Lots of talking around the fire at the Blind Pig house and there's a certain fiddling girl sawing away pretty much every day. Most weeks you can hear the sound of a loom if you drop by the JCCFS.
√ Lonesome tunes we got, happy tunes too.
√ No cow bells ringing but plenty of cows on the farm down the road lowing and hoping for the hay truck to come by.
√ Winter = cold and dark - Yep.
√ The back deck was a solid sheet of ice one morning this week and a couple of weeks ago my detergent semi-froze from sitting in the window.
√ Something about this time of the year makes me want to walk in the woods. Maybe it's because the woods are open and it's easier to see or maybe it's because I know how good a cup of hot chocolate will be when we get back cold but refreshed from our outing.
√ The sky looked just like cold milk the other day as Chitter and our made our way through Pine Log.
√ The lantern light is now a flash-light beam and I'm keeping my fingers crossed on the snow part-none yet this year.
So other than the cow bell, root cellar, and lantern light not much is different today than when John Parris wrote about his Decembers so many years ago. Somehow that comforts me.