Appalachia Christmas

Christmas Memories of School


“In third grade, my teacher, James Keener, had a big Christmas program. We called him “Teacher Jim,” and he had beautiful Christmas celebrations. He would turn us out of a day and we’d all go to the mountains and gather in greenery to decorate with. We got a tree, also. We’d come back, and when that big stove [heated with wood] got hot, that pine would smell so good. Teacher Jim would let us pull up those benches or pews (see, school was in the church) and gather around the heater so we could be warmer. I can remember that still yet. He always had a program with recitations. It was always something pertaining to Christmas and stressed the religious part of it. There might be some humor in there, too, but it was largely religious. He always invited parents in, too, and a good many people would come. That was sort of the highlight of the community. Everybody took Christmas off. We wouldn’t have to work around the farm. Usually our dad would specially get some wood up ready for good big fires. He would always get what he called a backstick, a big log to put in the fireplace, and it would last about three days. I guess it was called a Yule log in England. Dad just called it a backstick.”

from “A Foxfire Christmas”


I love the vision of Teacher Jim taking the students out into the mountains to gather greenery. I had a Sunday School teacher, Eunice Martin, who took her class up on the mountain at least once a year to have class.

“A Foxfire Christmas” is one of my favorite books about Christmas in Appalachia. You can jump over to the Foxfire site and see the book here.


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  • Reply
    December 22, 2018 at 10:58 am

    Enjoyed envisioning that scene….. In My early school days we also had lots of Christmas joy . Decorating our Classroom with a tree and other things ,choral singing, crafting ornaments to take home , getting a little present for a close friend, looking forward to Christmas break, we could hardly wait till that last bell rang. Always went home wishing for a big snow and excited anticipation every of joyful thing to come .The last day of school the cafeteria ladies would always have something good cooked up and we always pooled money for gifts for the cafeteria ladies and the janitor.Have a wonderful Christmas.

  • Reply
    Frank Vincent
    December 21, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    My wife mentioned a few weeks back that she wanted a “simpler” Christmas this year…and a week or so after I saw you Tipper made mention the “A Foxfire Christmas”…which just arrived in the mail. I hope she likes it…based on Foxfires website…I know I will…!

    Merry Christmas all!

  • Reply
    December 21, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    It’s a wonderful story, from a time when the program meant something to those who attended. That’s what struck me. Now people have so many parties and programs to attend they are rushing from one to another and seldom seeing the whole of any one of them. How do we get back to one focused program that all can share, appreciate, and enjoy?

  • Reply
    December 21, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    I love “backstick.” I always say I’m going to “throw another stick on” the fire in the woodstove, but my little Waterford is so tiny there wouldn’t be room for a backstick!

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    December 21, 2018 at 10:31 am

    I enjoy your old vintage Christmas cards at the top of your posts. I found some very old ones among his my husband’s folks things. Young folks back in the day…most of those we have are around 1906 – 1911 sent postcards to each other alot. I gathered the Christmas ones, sprinkled them with glitter and put them on my tree. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the stories about the school & recitations. My grandmother could still recite pieces of literature/poems into her 90’s.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2018 at 9:20 am

    My Christmas memories are not much different than the ones mentioned in A Foxfire Christmas. Our Christmas play was the only entertainment in town and lots of folks came to the big event every year. I remember feeling as important and
    nervous as a Hollywood actress when I played the non-speaking angel in the Nativity scene. It’s so sad that some kids today have never been taught the true meaning of Christmas.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 21, 2018 at 9:15 am

    The story of Teacher Jim illustrates what things were like when schools were small and an integral part of their communities. I was growing up just as that time had ended with the coming of better roads and buses. Almost the only thing left like that is the small country church.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2018 at 8:27 am

    The foxfire books are very interesting. I purchased a couple and it enhanced many of Tipper’s stories. I always wondered what it would be like to teach in a school not inside a city or town.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    December 21, 2018 at 8:21 am

    I loved this little story! I can just envision the children going into the woods gathering greenery, decorating the tree and gathering around the little stove to get warm as they listened to the stories Teacher Jim told. Too bad things are not like that today.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    December 21, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Christmas memories from grammer school are powerful ones. Oakhurst School in Charlotte produced a Christmas Pageant every year with Carols, short plays, and holiday themed musical vignettes. I was a tin soldier in first grade and marched in uniform around the stage to “The Parade of the Tin Soldiers”. And one year I had a speaking role in a scene about an English Christmas Eve feast. My line was, “…and don’t forget the Plum Pudding.” (I had never heard of Plum Pudding before that.) Every year during the week beforw Christmas break, the entire student body would assemble in the large auditorium for a screening of the Shirley Temple classic, HEIDI. That was always a treat. (The school must have owned a 16 mm print of the film.) When I was 10, five destroyed the old two story brick school, and the film along with it. Things were never the same after that.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 21, 2018 at 6:48 am

    I remember my Dad using the word backstick. I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the memory. We had a large fireplace in the living room and anytime the power went out we all gathered round. The rest of the time he would not use it because he said all of the heat would go up the flu since it was so large. A fire was a necessity for most folks but for us it was a special treat.

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