Christmas Folklore from the Great Smoky Mountains

“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.”

—Florence Cope Bush – “Dorie Woman of the Mountains”

I never heard any of the Christmas folklore shared by Bush when I was growing up in the mountains of NC. But I’ve done enough research to know the ones mentioned in the excerpt were common throughout the whole of the Appalachian mountains in days gone by.

Last night’s video: How to Cook a Deer or Venison Ham | One of Our favorite Deer Recipes from Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    December 10, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Anything is possible with the Lord!

  • Reply
    December 9, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    While I’m a second generation away from Swain County roots, I never heard the legends that are reported here and in Tipper’s other posts. I did, however, hear about animals kneeling at midnight on Christmas Eve; but I think it came from family friends who were practicing Catholics. Not sure, though!

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    December 9, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    I’ve never seen the animals kneeling on Christmas Eve, nor heard them talking, or heard the bees humming a Christmas Carol, yet I know that if our Heavenly Father wants it to be done, it will be done no matter what people might say about it. He performs Miracles and Wonders at His Will. Not all are priviledged to see them all, but someone at sometime could very well have witnessed it. We walk by Faith, not by sight.

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    December 9, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Always heard of animals speaking on Christmas Eve, never witnessed it, of course the Bible teaches us it’s certainly possible. As I’ve gotten older, 69, I’ve found that a lot of the folklore I was taught growing up has a legitimate basis.

  • Reply
    Patricia Wilson
    December 9, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Has anyone else heard of “old Christmas”? My great-grandmother mentioned once and I can’t recall the context. I regret not asking her about this. At the time I thought she might be thinking about Epiphany, January 6th., when liturgical churches celebrate the visit of the three kings – symbolizing that Christ came not just to Israel, but also to gentiles. I know that Eastern Orthodox celebrate Christmas on January 7th., but to my knowledge there were never any Eastern European settlers in her part of Kentucky. My genealogy and DNA analysis make me 100% confident that all my ancestors came from the British Isles. I have read that due to the relatively late adoption (~1750) of the Gregorian calendar in the British Isles, Christmas there was celebrated had been celebrated on January 6th. My ancestors would have already been in colonial Virginia and the Carolinas by then. This great-grandmother was born in 1879, so I am surprised she knew about “old Christmas.”

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      December 9, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Well ma’am you have your own answer. In Appalachia at least the old Julian calendar date for Christmas was remembered as “old Christmas” and the memory was handed down the generations. I guess it would be fair to say we don’t cotton to change much. That calendar change makes for headaches in genealogy as I’m sure you know!

    • Reply
      December 9, 2021 at 5:41 pm

      I think Old Christmas in January is due to the adjustment to the Gregorian calendar in the late 1700s when it was changed to account for lapses due to the lack of a leap year. It might well be due to the date for Epiphany, though.

      Like the Appalachian mountain communities in AL, GA, NC, TN, KY, WV, PA, the communities on the North Carolina Outer Banks were very isolated even until after WWII when bridges and roads were finally built making them more accessible. They, too, celebrated Old Christmas and still have an Old Christmas celebration today.

  • Reply
    December 9, 2021 at 11:09 am

    Low and behold, who knows what happens on Christmas Eve. I always heard, if the people don’t worship our Dear Lord, the animals will. That might be part of it.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    December 9, 2021 at 9:20 am

    The most miraculous thing that we celebrate on Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. He isn’t myth, folklore or legend.

    • Reply
      Yecedrah Beth Higman
      December 9, 2021 at 5:07 pm


    • Reply
      December 9, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      We all need that reminder from tome to time, Larry. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Christine J
      December 10, 2021 at 10:41 am


  • Reply
    Joseph Mazurek
    December 9, 2021 at 8:39 am

    These stories or lore were brought to America by immigrants from Central and Western Europe. Mostly Catholic based stories of Christmas and the miracle of the season, heard these stories from the old timers even growing up in Chicago. Love your site…

  • Reply
    December 9, 2021 at 8:37 am

    My parents believed that animals kneeled and spoke on Christmas Eve at midnight. They never spoke about flowers blooming or bees humming during that time. We seldom ever had any animals at Christmas. The hog had already been butchered and if we had a cow it was in a barn a good distance from the house. I always wanted to go peek through the cracks in the barn and watch the cow but I never did.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    December 9, 2021 at 8:33 am

    I think all these Christmas happenings are wonderful- be they truth or legend or both! Isn’t it wonderful to consider bees humming a carol, cattle kneeling or flowers blooming on the most blessed of nights?!?!?! I’ve lived 54 years and I’ve learned there’s a lot happening we have no idea about in nature right out our own back doors!!!! If a man claims he’s smart, he’s a definite fool. There’s too much going on here in the natural and supernatural for any man to boast….

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    December 9, 2021 at 8:12 am

    I heard about the cattle, nut a grown person when I did. My ancesters were from NC
    3 generstions back on my fathers side and 5 on my mothers. We just didn’t get yjose passed down I guess. Perhaps being Scots is ehy

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 9, 2021 at 7:59 am

    The only one I recall hearing was the one about the animals. As best I recall, they could talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. I thought about going to see but never did.

    Whether we realize it or not, we were taught by the ‘mainstream’ culture not to believe in anything “supernatural” and that coming to disbelieve in ‘supersition’ is part of ‘growing up’. Disbelieve in the miraculous is, of course, directly contrary to what Jesus demonstrated. We do know that animals can be empowered to talk; e. g. Balaam’s ass. I would be disconcerted to hear one talking but I know it’s possible.

  • Reply
    Kevin Knight
    December 9, 2021 at 7:29 am

    Never heard any of the legends, but we did have a Christmas cactus that bloomed around Christmas time. If I saw a cow kneel down and talk, I think I would have my well water tested. LOL Thanx for the post Tipper.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    December 9, 2021 at 7:16 am

    I’ve never heard the legend of bees singing on Christmas, but I’ve heard about animals talking on Christmas Eve and I wasn’t told that one until I was an adult! Like Ed Ammons through observation of cattle you see that they kneel whenever they need to lay down to chew the cud. My sister and I didn’t grow up with any superstitions told to us, so it’s interesting to read about those that have been around and sometimes are still believed.

  • Reply
    December 9, 2021 at 7:15 am

    Love your reading ‘Mountain Path’, Tipper!

    I can imagine my 3x’s great ancestors who were raised in TN/NC living in those cultures before coming to SW OH about 1800.

    When are we going to be able to hear chapter 17 & the rest of the book?

  • Reply
    December 9, 2021 at 7:13 am

    I asked my wife if she heard any of those and she had heard of flowers blooming on Christmas Eve. I had not heard that one. My favorite one you mentioned was the bees humming an ancient carol.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Moore
    December 9, 2021 at 7:00 am

    When I lived in NC a local Catholic Church did a blessing of the beasts around Christmas. People would bring their pets to the sanctuary and the priest would bless them. A really precious image..

    • Reply
      Bob Lingle
      December 9, 2021 at 11:13 am

      I had heard of the ‘blessing of the animals’ but never knew the ‘reason’. Thank you for the info’

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 9, 2021 at 6:29 am

    “that’a every time’ “? I hate this little Chromebook. It doesn’t say what I tell it too!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 9, 2021 at 6:22 am

    I have heard of animals speaking and cattle kneeling at midnight on Christmas Eve. I didn’t hear that bees hum or plants bloom until I read the book. I do know for a fact cows kneel when they lay down but that’a every time’ not just on Christmas. I learned that from observation.

    • Reply
      December 9, 2021 at 7:01 am

      ED, those are the same ones I’ve heard but can’t remember where or when, maybe in elementary school.

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