Christmas Holidays in Appalachia

Christmas Folklore From Appalachia

christmas folklore
An old Christmas legend has been on my mind for the last few weeks. Maybe you’ve heard it too: at midnight on Christmas Eve all the barnyard animals kneel in honor of the birth of Christ.

Mostly what I’ve been trying to remember-is who told me the story the first time. Over the years I’ve heard it-and read it-but can’t remember where I first heard the story. Growing up-we never had any animals other than cats and dogs-so I don’t think it was Pap or Granny who told me the story. We do live near a 2,000 acre cattle farm-maybe someone told me the story in relation to the cattle that surround the roads that lead to home.

As I did a little Googling around-trying to find the origin of the old piece of folklore-I stumbled upon some other pieces related to Christmas:

  • If a rooster crows repeatedly at 12:00 he is crowing for Christmas
  • Anything made of leather during Christmas will not last
  • 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 (Old Christmas is Jan 6th-according to the Old Julian Calendar)
  • 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.

(I found all the folklore in Frank C. Brown’s Collection of NC Folklore Part 2-you can read part of the book online by clicking on the title.)

2 sayings I’ve heard all my life about Christmas:

  • Slow as Christmas-to describe someone or something that is slow. I used it this morning to describe Chatter-when Chitter asked me what could possibly take so long to go back and get a coat. I said “you know your sister is slow as Christmas-just look at her walking to the car-see how slow she’s going.”
  • Christmas in July-said when something exciting happens during the middle of the summer-it’s like Christmas in July.

Got any folklore about Christmas to share-or a saying? If you do I hope you’ll leave a comment and share it with us.

Drop back by tomorrow for another reason I associate barnyard animals with Christmas-even though I never had any.



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  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    November 1, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Tipper my Mother Miss Julie would take a lantern out to the barn with stalls on Christmas Eve and the horse s and cows would low morn . The psalm 150 let everything give praise to God. Even the ruach the wind sometime giving praises to God

  • Reply
    January 7, 2011 at 8:32 am

    I just stumbled on this block searching for info on this old legend. Thought you might like to know that I first heard the legend from a storyteller from Sodom, West Virginia named Sheila Kaye Adams, who said it happened on Old Christmas. Thought that might be your source too – she gets around.
    And a correction: Old Christmas is January 7 (today), not January 6. January 6 is Epiphany.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 25, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Tipper, that’s a nice video from Jackie at Carolina Crafts….nice that she included Pap and Paul!

  • Reply
    December 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Anastasia-Thank you so much for sharing your customs with us!!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 22, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Good post, Tipper! I’ve heard most of those stories but didn’t grow up with them.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    my papaw always said barn animals talked at midnight on Christmas eve…I believed him, because he said he’d heard it himself 🙂

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I had heard all except the leather not lasting Do you suppose it has anything to do with actually having to kill the animal to make the leather?
    My Momma always told me I was as slow as Christmas.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Thank you for your post, so interesting…I have heard of the coin in the Santa cake as a youth studying world Christmas traditions, (many years ago) but could never remember the connection of New Year, Christmas, etc…
    Thanks Tipper….such interesting folks and folklore about Christmas and New Years Eve….

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Have heard the tale about the animals and the saying about being as slow as Christmas. Must have been passed down thru my family. Anyway, it’s interested to read what folks have to say about things.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    In Cyprus, children used to get their presents on New Year’s Day and not on Christmas Day, as their “Santa” is Ai-Vasilis who they celebrate on January 1st. Nowadays, children get presents for Christmas but also for New Year’s Day!!
    So on New Year’s Eve, after the children go to sleep,Mum places Santa’s cake with a coin in it by the Christmas tree, lighting a candle on it and placing a goblet full of wine next to it. Tradition says, that Ai-Vasilis would come exhausted; he’d bless the cake and drink the wine. Then he’d place the presents for the children of the family under the tree.
    Children wake up early in the morning on New Year’s Day and then Dad cuts the “Vasilopitta” – Santa’s cake. The one who has the piece with the coin in it is regarded as the lucky person of the year. Then all the children rush to get their presents from under the tree.
    Merry Christmas!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy..I think I’m finally getting the spirit. Nope, not in the spirits!LOL
    Wellll, we use ‘slow as Christmas’…also ‘Christmas in July’…
    When the pines were being cut one warm early Summer and the aroma of evergreens sprang from the woods we all said…”Yummm, it smells like Christmas!”
    I love to stay up late on Christmas eve and into the wee hours of Christmas morning to listen to the ‘quite”!..I even will walk outside and just look up at the stars and take it all in and just listen…even if it is cloudy, cold and or snowing…Do it sometime!…I think that Christmas is the most quite of anytime of the year…with the exception of Christmas morning and early bird youngsters..then it begins to liven and noise up!…LOL
    I’ve always heard that animals talk on Christmas and lay down or kneel down….

  • Reply
    Dea Riley
    December 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    FYI – This is how this came into the customs and practice of Appalachia – uniquely it celebrated in no other region in the US.
    Until the time of Julius Caesar the Roman year was organized round the phases of the moon. For many reasons this was hopelessly inaccurate so, on the advice of his astronomers, Julius instituted a calendar centred round the sun. It was decreed that one year was to consist of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, divided into twelve months; the month of Quirinus was renamed ‘July’ to commemorate the Julian reform. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of leap years, the Julian calendar overestimated the length of the year by eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which comes to one day every on hundred and twenty-eight years. By the sixteenth century the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by Pope Gregory XIII lopped the eleven minutes fifteen seconds off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days. This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic Europe.
    Protestant Europe was not going to be told what day it was by the Pope, so it kept to the old Julian calendar. This meant that London was a full ten days ahead of Paris. By the time England came round to adopting the Gregorian calendar, in the middle of the eighteenth century, England was eleven days ahead of the Continent.
    A Calendar Act was passed in 1751 which stated that in order to bring England into line, the day following the 2nd of September 1752 was to be called the 14th, rather than the 3rd of September. Unfortunately, many people were not able to understand this simple maneuverer and thought that the government had stolen eleven days of their lives. In some parts there were riots and shouts of ‘give us back our eleven days!’
    Before the calendar was reformed, England celebrated Christmas on the equivalent of the 6th of January by our modern, Gregorian reckoning. That is why in some parts of Great Britain people still call the 6th of January, Old Christmas Day.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I enjoy all the Christmas Folklore
    sayings, can’t add anything right
    now. In your ETSY store I’ve noticed four new paintings. I just
    can’t wait for my granddaughters to see the one I bought from you of the little girl with ponytails.
    I believe you called it Adventure.
    Hope everyone is enjoying the good
    times of Christmas…Ken

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I have heard that about the animals, too. I even wrote a kid’s story that involved animals talking at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. My grandma always said it was bad luck to hang up clothes on Old Christmas.

  • Reply
    Just Jackie
    December 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I have always heard that the animals talk at mid-night on Christmas Eve. I was never allowed to stay up and go to the barn to find out. (we only had pigs and rabbits) But I did believe because my great-grandpa had told me.I’ve heard “slow as Christmas”, too. Thanks for the shout out to my show. I didn’t know Ron had added you’all to the end. You and your family mean so much to me.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I wonder if chickens do anything? I think I look in on them! Have a great day.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Psalms 150: 6 says “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord”. What better time to praise and honor Him than at His birth… Thank you for this article. I have completely enjoyed it. Merry Christmas to you all.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I have heard some of the stories about animals on Christmas Eve, but not all. I’m glad you wrote about this.
    Christmas evokes so many beautiful memories about days gone by and memories about so many beautiful people I have known.
    You know, there is still time for more Christmas thoughts before it actually gets here. I hope you have more entries on the theme of Christmas in the next few days. I love these entries by you and those people up there in North Carolina snd others. To me there is nothing more beautiful than Christmas with people being so nice and of course, the meaning of Christmas. There is no more more beautiful time of the year ( and in my opinion ) there is no song with a more beautiful melody than “Silent Night” Especially if it is played on a guitar with cat gut strings.
    Loved this post!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Tipper–I’ll add a few things to your fine commentary on Christmas lore. But first, I should note that I’ve used and heard the phrase “slow as Christmas” all my life.
    I’ve got a good buddy who regularly refers to the opening day of dove season as “Christmas in September.” The description is an apt one, given the fact that opening day involves keen anticipation, excitement, action, and togetherness.
    Your mention of Old Christmas brings to mind the Yule log, which was once carefully selected to last in the back of a fireplace from December 25 through January 6.
    Also, the “12 days of Christmas” involve, at least in one interpretation, the span between Dece. 25 and Jan. 6.
    There are about as many mountain traditions connected with New Year as there are Christmas, and maybe you’ll cover them in an upcoming post. I’ll be doing that for the Tuck Reader on December 30.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Debora Kerr
    December 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

    I’ve heard all of those stories with the exception of the water-to-blood, Like you, I can’t remember when or where I heard them first, though. Merry Christmas!

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    December 21, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I’ve heard this about the animals, not sure where I heard it from tho. I’ve heard ‘slow as Christmas’ and use it occasionally.
    My mom had an awesome collection of Christmas records. (My favorite was The Drummer Boy, had a beautiful cover-sheep on the hillside w/the drummer boy. Beautiful!). I loved listening to those albums and would sometimes ask at other times during the yr if I could play them. She would always tell us that if they are played at any other time of the yr except Christmas, it would warp them!! LOL!! Of course, I believed my momma!!
    Blessings, Patty H.

  • Reply
    kat magendie
    December 21, 2010 at 8:26 am

    I remember that old saying about the animals lying down at christmas – the lion with the lamb and all *smiling*
    Hmm, trying to think of some old folktales and I can’t think -need more coffee *laugh* … love love your blog… I try to read, even when I am flying by and don’t always comment as I should!

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