Christmas

Christmas in Haywood County NC 1933

dancing-at-Christmas-in-Appalachia

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.

—Charles Fletcher


Last night’s video: Best Sugar Cookies | Stories, Laughter, & Love.

Tipper

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    December 9, 2021 at 10:07 pm

    My Mother used to tell me about some of the Christmases they used to celebrate during the Great Depression Days. One thing that always stands out in her stories was the details of what they went through. Some of it was sad and some of it was happy. There were a lot of sacrifices made during that time.

    Tipper, I was a fortunate winner during your Thankful November offerings and won The Doll Maker by Harriet Arnow. I can relate to parts of the compelling story. Our family also moved from our Appalachian home in the mountains so Daddy could find work. I’ve always missed being with my kin folks especially during the time when we first left. I still miss my Grandparents and relatives even though we used to go visit them a good bit after we moved away. Thank you Tipper for my book. I love reading about the ways of life back then and I’m thankful I won the book.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 8, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    I don’t believe I have ever eaten goose before. As a matter of fact I’ve never even had duck. Beef wasn’t often on the table as we always kept dairy cattle. We raised a pig every year but there was eight of us eating so it didn’t last long. But we didn’t suffer for protein. We always had chicken.
    I didn’t eat turkey until I was grown. To be truthful I wasn’t impressed. I might eat a bite or two if somebody took the time cook it for me but honestly I’d just as sooner have chicken.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    December 8, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    I love to read about Christmas celebrations years ago.

  • Reply
    Barbara N Gantt
    December 8, 2021 at 6:03 pm

    My Dad grew up in Haywood County. His family went to the Baptist church. In 1933, he wqas 15. That would be his last Christmas there as he moved to Lenoir as soon as he was 16. He had to support his Mother and Father. His Dad had cancer and could no longer work. He went to work in the furniture factories. His Christmas were a lot lot like these. He said they always got an orange, apple candy stick and sometimes a few nuts. Church was the most important part for them.

  • Reply
    Robert
    December 8, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    So many things in that story remind me of Christmas at our house. I remember getting some of my dad’s long, knee socks to hang from the mantel. Being the youngest of nine kids, I had both my parents and a lot of older siblings intent on making my Christmases special. Although we were quite financially challenged, we never lacked for love for and trust in each other. My siblings continued to have Christmas dinner together until I was well into my forties and my oldest brother in his sixties. It was not until my mother died that Christmas for us turned to our own wives and children and grandchildren.

    Thank you, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Lindy-Lou Bath
    December 8, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    Its so humbling to read this. Brings tears to my eyes as to read the appreciation and joy of one gift. Not so like today. I recently have been following you and your daughters. Love your heritage and You Tube videos. Quite familiar as Im from South Africa and can relate to your simple lives. We also have South African lingo that we mix up with all the other South African languages. So I can relate. I love this country so much and as a family we are so appreciative of living here now. Been here 13 years. My family are thriving here now, compared to so much violence and crime in South Africa and no opportunities left for caucasian people.
    Always look forward to your posts, thank you.

  • Reply
    Darlene Cunningham
    December 8, 2021 at 11:40 am

    What a great Christmas memory. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply
    Angela J Short
    December 8, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It reminds me of my Dad’s family stories. Enjoy your day!

    • Reply
      Marsha
      December 8, 2021 at 1:00 pm

      This brought tears to my eyes with the memories of a simple Christmas

  • Reply
    Gigi
    December 8, 2021 at 10:13 am

    That brought back memories. It sure took me back it time. We decorated our tree to, with pinecones wrap in tinfoil and cut papers and put them together to make a chain to go ho around the tree. Popcorn was also made. We had to eat a little to. We would also get an apple, a orange and a peppermint stick. If daddy would get enough money from our tobacco crop, sometimes we might get one toy. Not every time. Momma would fix her hit amazing biscuits and daddy fix his gravy. We would have sausage or tenderloin for breakfast. The house smelled like good food. O it was so good.

  • Reply
    Melinda
    December 8, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Although life was a lot easier when I was a kid in the 40’s & 50’s in SW Ohio, I see where some traditions come from. Our wonderful Mom & Dad still had to save & work hard to make Christmas special for my siblings & me. Our tree was always a Cedar off our farm. The smell of fresh cut Cedar still takes me back to the joy & excitement of the week before Christmas.

  • Reply
    dee
    December 8, 2021 at 9:51 am

    That was a wonderful true life story that was lived out I’m sure in many farm families in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. I remember Mother telling me of how they spent their Christmases. They also grew up living between a Methodist Church and a Baptist Church which was a big part of their lives. What really came through from my Mother and Father’s many family stories was expressed by Charles Fletcher’s statement about Christmas at their home: We were all happy; no one was sick; we had enough to eat; and most of all, we loved each other.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    December 8, 2021 at 9:34 am

    Enjoyed this story. Cookie video was wonderful. Your girls are so fun. Tipper, you have some wonderful memories. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    Bob Lingle
    December 8, 2021 at 9:24 am

    That sure brings back some fond memories. Didn’t have a fireplace, but we hung our socks up (somewhere) in anticipation of Santa ‘filling’ them with goodies. It usually consisted of an apple, an orange, a few mixed nuts, and some hard candy. My younger brother and I usually got a rubber tractor and a rubber ball.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    December 8, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Charles was an amazing storyteller. I bought all his books as soon as they were published and was always excited about his next one. I miss reading his true stories that were oftentimes sad, but it’s his funny stories a reader never forgets.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    December 8, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I love reading anything by Charles Fletcher. I just am amazed how happy and joyful those old Christmases were without all the hoopla from the mall and Amazon. Not so amazing as I remember my grandmother’s tree all covered with popcorn and paper ornaments. The season would be so warm and cozy with the pot bellied stove roaring. There was always that Christmas hard candy I never see anymore. As kids would do, my Uncle Larry and I would settle down to a homemade game of Fox and Geese. We used red corn and yellow corn to represent the Fox and Geese. Neither of us can remember how we played that game, but we would play for hours. It was so nice to have a bunch of uncles and aunts around my age to enjoy.

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    December 8, 2021 at 8:47 am

    Loved this story. Hard times can bring us together and this family loved each other very much. I can see the children’s faces as they opened their gifts. Simple but what joy! Especially when breakfast was served. Big ol’ Cathead biscuits and cream gravy. Yummmm! Thanks, Tipper for sharing this with us.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    December 8, 2021 at 8:41 am

    That is a beautiful Christmas story.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    December 8, 2021 at 8:38 am

    I read the whole memory only to find the very best reading in Mr. Fletcher’s last paragraph! The real and important things are family, love, health, and each other! Many are going back to the old traditions right now! I am making no plans about Christmas dinner because on Thanksgiving I was sick and ate broth with saltines for over a week… but as long as there’s a roof up above me, a good place to sleep, there’s food on the table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love and a fine family. Thank you great LORD for your blessings on me!!!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 8, 2021 at 8:03 am

    In 1938 the world was about to be changed. That change would make the memory of simple joys of home together at Christmas all the more treasured soon. Always the way with us, ‘if we only knew’ the future we would best appreciate the presenr. But we don’t and have to work at being fully appreciative, often failing in some degree. Your posts are good reminders.

  • Reply
    Kathy Gautier
    December 8, 2021 at 7:49 am

    Tipper,

    Thank you for sharing this passage. My Daddy used to tell us of his Christmases growing up. He was so excited if he got an apple and an orange and a stick of peppermint ’cause times were hard. Loved reading this so we can all reflect on how much we have to be thankful for that we take for granted. I received my cd’s and jewelry yesterday and have been listening to Pap and Paul’s Christmas cd since I opened the envelope. It is one of my favorite cd’s and I am really enjoying the music and harmony. Just listening to the cd brings on a peacefulness that is hard to describe, but very much appreciated. The jewelry is beautiful and I did not want to wrap it up and wait for Christmas, but alas I must. I hope all of you have a peace and joy filled Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

  • Reply
    Lori Hughes
    December 8, 2021 at 7:28 am

    My parents were both born in 1933 and I miss them and their stories terribly. They knew how to appreciate what they had. The very things we should all be grateful for, a warm home, a full belly and most of all, a healthy family. Thank you Tipper, for sharing this beautiful Christmas story.

  • Reply
    Sandra Henderson
    December 8, 2021 at 7:03 am

    I loved reading this sweet story. I envision this tree and the entire events, I’m sure those dresses were made of feedbacks, I have many quilts from this period with pretty feedbacks. I remember making paper chains out of colored paper and stringing popcorn and cranberries. I’ve never heard of dying the popcorn, or even thought about it. I love waking up to your blog. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Jimk
    December 8, 2021 at 6:59 am

    Sounds like a gentler, kinder time. I remember stringing popcorn, don’t see that anymore. We do have church plays at Christmas with the youth ( hopefully that won’t ever change).
    It’s been years since I’ve seen chinquapins.
    Thanks for the memories,

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 8, 2021 at 6:49 am

    That is a beautiful picture of Christmas in the small papermill town. I know the town, I lived there, and my family roots are there. My dad worked with Charles at the papermill. Charles certainly had a beautiful way of expressing life!
    This reflection is of a time before I was born but it was not too much different for a while after I was born. Life in the town was very simple.
    Don’t we wish that life was simple now!

    • Reply
      Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
      December 8, 2021 at 11:22 am

      Just wondering if that might have been Canton. We had a home on top of Eagles’ Nest mountain in Waynesville. We could always tell if rain was coming because we could smell the mill in Canton just before the rain arrived.

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    December 8, 2021 at 6:32 am

    What a wonderful true life story ! I can just imagine all the joy they shared .

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