Christmas Heritage Holidays in Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

Christmas Spirit

Christmas gifts

Do you have your Christmas tree up yet? I don’t. I usually put the trees up on Thanksgiving Day-or at least the day after (one big one-3 little ones-cause I love Christmas). This year I’m just not interested in decorating. I tried to convince the girls we should just put up one of the little trees instead of the big one. They didn’t like my suggestion.

I’m not sure what my problem is-maybe it’s the economic mess most folks are feeling. In my area, folks have held on till they just can’t anymore. Seems everyday I hear about another family I know who’s loosing their home. Maybe in the back of my mind-I feel it just isn’t right to celebrate when so many of my neighbors aren’t sure they’ll have a roof over their heads for much longer.

As I contemplated my lack of Christmas Cheer-I recalled an old Christmas letter David Templeton sent me a few months back. When I read it the 2nd time I found it was just as powerful as I remembered. See what you think:

Mon-Morn-Dec 10. 1962

Herndan, Va.

Dearest sister an family.

Just a few lines let you know I am still living and as well as could be expected at my age.  Never feel good iny more.

Hope this will find the whole famley well and happy.  Well sister Ronald had his operation.  Got over it fine.  Seams to be in better helth now.  Is looking good.  Elsie don’t never feel well looks bad.  They both are working.  Elsie has bin working 6 days to the week.  Ron puts in lot over time.  That way it goes at this time of year.  Well sister we had pretty fall, but it sit in to snowing baut week a go the ground was warm if it hadent bin we would has a big onea bout 2 inches layed on.  Still some on ground. And Cold was 10 a bove this morn-Ilook for us to have a ruff winter that is what they are predictin.  I dread it.  Well I had go to stellas a  week a go.  Stay with neylun the children while Stella was in Hospitalle her Docter put her in to have testes run on her.  He thought had what anna Sue had.  But thank God she dident it was thyroid and nirvis Condition.  Thay are treating her.  I hope she don’t half to have a opration.  Seams like some of my family is always sick.  I told them all I wanted for Christmas was all the family to be well.  Would be the best thing in the world.  I have went throw so much.  Sister how is all your family?  I am Just sending you a card and letter.  I haven’t got to do no Christmuss shopping.  They way thay woork I don’t have no way to go.  So don’t you send me nothing but a letter a baut your self the whole family I would like that better than iny thing I think a baut you all and wonder how you are.  Sister I would love to spend Christmus with you better than iny thing but at this time of year would be dangras to travel and make a  Change so I will do like the ground hog hole up tell warm wether but will be always thinking of my love ones wishing I Could be with them.  Well sister Ronald and Elsie bough them a house and 1 acer land. We have moved I like it fine.  We have watter in house I don’t half pack it like I did don’t half be out for nothing but go to mail box. The house has living room 2 bed rooms kitchen dining room bath room portch large basment we wash down there.  Is room up stars to make 2 bed rooms if thay want to is stare way up there we keep all our Junk up there hang cloths to dry up there.  We have oil heat Cook with gass.  The house is white an out side trimed in blue.  Have a big lawn plenty of srubery the Lawn borders an high way.  The best thing we have land a nough to raise all the vectbles we want.  There is 3 big pine trees in yeard.  2 grape vines lots rose bushes.  Thay payed 1/3 down pay the rest a paying rint till thay pay for it.  Well sister I am going to wash to day so I will sine of here.  Tell Frank and Homer helow and not do nothing that I wouldn’t.  and dear sister, write me a letter for Christmaus gift I would like that better than iny thing.  Take care of your self and be carfule if it gets icey and snows down there if you was to fall brake a bone would be hard to hell at your age.  Wishing every one of you helth happens and susess in all your under taking.  May the good Lord take care of you all and keep you until we meet a gin is my prayer.

Love always

Your only sis Emma   by by now



David’s words detailing how he found the letter sum up the emotion it evokes much better than I could:

I was fishing along a mountain creek over in Lee County Virginia. There was a gravel road that ran along the high bank, just above the creek. Lost in the thickets and honeysuckle, still hanging on to the banks of the road, but falling down eventually into the creek, was the ghost of an old house. Its roof was mostly caved in but the floors were somewhat still intact, so I could get into it.

Some of the old linoleum was still in place and some patches of wallpaper clung to the walls. Even a piece of furniture or a cabinet waited for someone from long ago to come back and take it with them.

I looked in a kitchen cabinet and found an old letter, still in the envelope someone had licked and mailed and someone had happily opened one December, many years ago, but time worn so the sender’s address couldn’t be seen. One end was torn off and two or three pages of still folded writing poked out.

I read the letter and, you know Tipper, I could feel the frail little woman, standing there, reading the Christmas thoughts her dear sister had sent.

And, I could look around the now dilapidated remains of a once warm home and imagine the little woman’s smiles from another time as she put wall paper on the cabin’s walls or when they brought the roll of linoleum she had gone to Jonesville and picked out at the furniture store. And, I could imagine a time when she had children there and the school bus was coming and she hurried them off and then sat at her kitchen table and wrote back to her sister.

And when I read the letter today, as I sometimes do, I can feel the poignancy as she and her sister pined to see each other during that bleak midwinter’s day.

Weren’t letters so much more meaningful when they were hand-written, just as the writer felt and just like the writer talked, without the adulteration of spell-check and grammar-check and fancy printed fonts?

Anyway, that’s how I found the letter: In an old falling-down cabin in Virginia, written many years ago at Christmastime.


After thinking about the old letter for the past few days, after wondering over and over if the sisters ever got to see each other again-I’ve found my Christmas Spirit. The reason for the season is what I should be celebrating-not the trees nor the lights. Those 2 guys up there in the picture with me-there’s never been a Christmas that we’ve not been together-never been a time I had to write a letter to a brother far away and wish I could see him. In these tough times-I think that’s enough-actually its always been enough-but pondering the fate of our nation seems to have cleared my vision enough to see it.

I’m going to put my trees up.



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  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    December 23, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Merry CHRISTmas dear Tipper and family. I’ve got the Christmas Spirit and because HE LIVES, I can face tomorrow.

  • Reply
    December 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I truely enjoy the old things, that make christmas more real. I think every one has forgotten something that once made them happy. Times are way to fast thses days. Always in a run, no time for hello, or how are you. Sometimes the most simplest thing, like a smile is such a heart warming thing for some. I can remember at christmas as a kid,waking up in the middle of the night thinking for sure i heard raindeer bells. I would lay so still afraid he would know i was awake. Then i would wake my sister and would sneak an see if he had left the gifts. Christmas was always special, because we never got things like kids do today.. We always had what we needed, my parents took very good care of us and they worked very hard to make sure of it.Now as a parent I know what they went through.. This year our tree is beautiful,we are warm, dry and most important TOGETHER. I think the Lord for every thing he has given me and mine. On christmas morning we will sing happy birthday first of all, like we always do..Merry Christmas Tipper and Family.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Thank you for a great post and a good reminder. The important things – faith, family and friends are what makes Christmas, not all the commercialism. But my heart hurts for those families loosing their jobs and their homes.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2009 at 4:38 am

    What a special post. I too have had the experience of a renewal of Christmas Spirit. I have had the fun of watching a new family begin to build their personal traditions around Christ. Isn’t it amazing how He loves us and grants us help when we need it.
    Bless you this Christmas.
    Loved your post.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    December 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Great picture of you and the guys Tipper. I enjoyed the rememberies (that’s what we call them) of Christmas’ and snow storms past. I haven’t decorated at all this year. Not because I don’t want to, just been working too much and had other obligations to take care of. Very glad you found your Christmas spirit again. xxoo

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    December 7, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I am squarely in middle of a Christmas crisis myself. Plenty of true Christmas spirit in my heart and mind, but disgusted with all of the hype and hysteria. My weekend at the church reminded me again that my Savior was born in a BORROWED stable — that the generosity of others was good enough for Him. I can see that our Christmas this year will be very low key on the secular stuff and oh so very full of spirit. Thanks for sharing the letter.

  • Reply
    Shane Moad
    December 7, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Yes Tipper, we do not have to look far to find the reason for a spirit of Christmas……….sometimes its hard when things around us are falling apart but I look around me and see many reasons to give thanks for that wonderful gift of Jesus Christ….Im glad you are back in the spirit ready for Christmas to Tipper!
    We put our tree up every year on the 1st of December but I feel you have a great tradition of putting it up at Thanks Giving because we certainly have a lot to be thankful for hey. Take care Tipper………………Shane

  • Reply
    December 7, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Confession & Thought-
    I lost my zest for Christmas, heck even holiday decorating starting in October when Anelisa passed away, so did my son…yesterday was the first time I even really felt the ‘spirit’ for celebrating when we were invited to a ‘private’ and invitation only party by some new friends. The food, decorations, and friendly feel of the whole thing must have brought on something in me, since so many people kept saying “E, you are just too happy tonight”, and all I was doing was smiling…not really much of a talker, a listener (yeah right you are thinking), so we will see, it has been nine years…
    The letter brings back memories of my mamaw talking, and her writing me letters with ‘iny’ and ‘by by now’…I read a letter my sister wrote recently, and she is not a great speller, but writes what she hears in her talking from our growing up…love it!
    I agree the economy makes me cringe, but people seem to over do it with spending, or is it my poverty upbringing that makes me feel ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ in the way of a hug, or friendly company the only gift one should want…a little good food doesn’t hurt either! The true meaning and purpose of Christmas, but I realize kids have other ideas…

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I haven’t been in the Christmas spirit either. Still don’t have a tree up. Nor have I done any other decorating. But I will. I’m just waiting for the spirit to get me moving.
    Speaking of moving…that letter was very touching. Reminds me of my Mother and the way she missed her sisters.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Tipper, I love the post. I haven’t been much in the spirit myself this year. My own sister has been so sick and it always seems like we are just trying to get by here lately. Me and Maddie did get our tree up though. We did it by ourselves because the boys were off hunting. Maddie found a box of old ornaments from when I was a little girl and she had a lot of fun with them. I haven’t used them in years, but she liked them so much she used almost all of them. She passed up all of the new and shiny ones for that box of old wooden ones. It seemed like a lot of trouble to drag out all the Christmas decorations, but Maddie was so excited it seemed to put me in the Christmas mood for a little while. It was worth the trouble of hauling all those boxes out of the attic.
    I am looking forward to Christmas Vacation from school so me and the kids can just hang out together. I hope we don’t have to leave the house unless we want to.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing that touching letter.
    I think everyone is feeling blue, but I believe those who didn’t care about the commercialism before, are not effected by it now either. It is more that people’s spirits are being hunkered down by job losses/ fears and all the uncertainty. There are lots of positive thoughts here. We should focus on friends and family. Have people over for coffee/tea and conversation, reconnect with loved ones, via text or letter. That puts a smile on everyone’s face and warms everyone’s heart.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I’ve been feeling the same way. Thanks for clarifying the mood and giving me heart.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    After reading that, I have to recommend you read this. “The Hurting Part” by Silas House (Appalachian Writer) It’s a Christmas tale. Family has always been enough for us mountain folk. It will continue to be enough because it’s real.

  • Reply
    Lisa Louise Cooke
    December 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    I’m a fan of your blog and am awarding you the Kreativ Blogger Award which you can pick up at
    Best to you!
    Lisa at Genealogy Gems

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    letter was good!! I long for those days when things were so much simpler. Maybe there is such a thing as “the good ole days”

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    What a great post, Tipper. That letter is so touching, sort of brought tears to my eyes.
    I think for the first time in a lot of years, a lot of people are going to realize that Christmas isn’t about money or presents. It’s about celebrating the best gift that God ever gave to us and loving our family and friends. Like you, I’m worried about what is happening all around us and the uncertainty that we are facing as a country. I just know that God will be with us, whatever it is that happens. God, Family, Country~we’ll get through all of it together!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Tipper, it does my heart good to see you with your brothers. I’ve told you before that I keep your shortcut on my desktop screen and go to it routinely as a tonic for my spirit. You and your Blind Pig and The Acorn, your readers and glimpses at your family, keep me in a good spirit.
    May God bless all of you at this very special time and throughout the year.
    Merry, Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    How blessed you are to be in possession of this letter. It was written when I was just 13 years old.
    Like you, I’ve been blessed enough that I’ve never had to write a letter to my brother on Christmas. We all meet at Mom’s over the holidays to have dinner and reminisce a little. My sister doesn’t come but we usually meet them for coffee during the Christmas season.
    Enjoyed my visit here today. I am now going to read your last post and play catch-up. Have a wonderful week. I’m glad you found your Christmas spirit.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 6, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Tipper, once again you have lifted my heart! The letter and your own feelings are much of what I have been feeling but your change in perspective made the sune shine in my heart too. Thank you.
    AND if that is not enough tell me how any grandmother could be bah humbug listening to your two daughters, my granddaughters, sing Go Tell it on the Mountain!!!

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    December 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Tipper: The Christmas time has been so commercialized that it is more about gifts then what has happened to give us Christmas. I hope the true spirit of Christmas comes into all our hearts.

  • Reply
    laoi gaul-williams
    December 6, 2009 at 11:34 am

    lovely tipper 🙂
    i am working to make this a great christmas for it will be our first without my nan, my mums, mum and so will be hard on a personal level. money is not in great abundance here either but we will do what we can to make things cheery.
    i am glad your tree is going up 🙂

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    December 6, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Christmas spirit has been hard to find this year, but I had a wonderful day yesterday when my sister and some long time friends came to my book signing and we went on the tour of homes in Clay County.
    While I had made a feebie attempt at decorating, my sister took over and completed the task.
    This first Christmas without my love beside me has been daunting, but now I am looking forward to doing what I can for others and spending time with my loved ones.
    And I am expecting 2010 to be a better year.
    Merry Christmas, dear Tipper to you and your lovely family.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 6, 2009 at 10:50 am

    What a lovely post! Thanks you for sharing that precious letter.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 10:18 am

    This is Carole again. I seem to post from another account each time I show up and don’t have anything to do with it!
    I just wanted to clarify one thing. My main “bah humbug” lives in my house! My husband does not like Christmas, I don’t know why, it doesn’t matter the circumstance. So I let his attitude affect me a few years, didn’t decorate, etc., and I resented it. I am not trying to change him and his feelings, I’m just ignoring them. And I’m much happier.
    I did not want to give the impression that I am dismissing the economic mess unfolding around us right now. It is horrifying and threatens every single one of us. I keep thinking of the canary in the coal mine. But my mother talked about the little they had during the Depression, the constant looming disaster. But they always managed a small tree and a few simple gifts at their little farm in Middle Tennessee. Those memories are shining lights that have warmed her over some cold, hard decades. So, that’s why I keep on the way I do. Thank you for your post.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 9:39 am

    I don’t have much Christmas spirit this year either. What is wrong with all of us? I miss my parents and won’t be with them this year until the 26th of this month. It is hard trying to split time with families when they are in different states. I do feel more grateful this year for what we have in life.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 6, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Love the tree….all the handmade decorations…the jar lid picture scene..the clothes pin reindeer, the egg carton bell, or it looks like the little bells we used to make out of the paper mache egg cartons with loads of large silver glitter..the gingerbread pipe cleaner holding the little ginger bread figure, and I see in the far back something made with red fabric and lace, and I think that is a little soldier in left of the picture…Oh the memories these type of decorations bring back…I still have a lot of our homemade decorations…saved from homeroom Mother art classes..Cub scouts and just making them here at home for the fun of it…the children would always come up with an idea for a wooden thread spool, cut up egg cartons, jar rings and lids, old red and green pipe cleaners..glitter flying everywhere..the thick type glitter not the fine stuff they have today…and glue stuck everything with little glitter covered fingers…..
    Thanks for the look back Tipper…

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Christmas threw up in my house the day after Thanksgiving. That was my Christmas spirit. There was crap every where and I felt just like you. Then Dr. Seuss’s
    Grinch came on last week, I slowed down enough to watch it with my daughter and for the 1st time I got it! It isn’t about all the stuff. It isn’t a race to get everything done. Slow down or you’ll miss it or someone….
    Merry Christmas everyone!
    oh and my whole family is getting a Snuggie for Christmas whether they like them or not! There I’m done.

  • Reply
    December 6, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Really glad you found your Christmas spirit, Tipper. I so enjoyed this letter and your friends words about how it made him feel. It’s been a rough year for us as well and my Christmas spirit has been lagging, but we put the tree up tonight and it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    December 6, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I’ve been blue – since this is the firdt holidsy season without Daddy. The letter has helped me to realize the family I do have left and to hold thwm dear to my heart. God bless you all.

  • Reply
    Terry Stites
    December 5, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you Tipper, I am starting to get around to getting the decorations out of the closet. I did wash and need to iron the table cloth, but the snowmen salt n pepper shakers are clean and all filled. After I do the last bit of cleaning the dining/kitchen, I will start putting the other things out. Love the letter.

  • Reply
    Carole Corlew
    December 5, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    You will feel better once you get the tree up. I have my tiny little one up, an artificial tree I bought just to make sure I could get one up right AT Thanksgiving every year. To make sure the bah humbugs don’t get a jump on me. I have separated my celebrating from them. I can’t let it get me down. I do what I can for others. But being down deep in a hole is not going to help a soul. In fact, if I am wallowing, I might not feel like extending a hand to someone when I am able. That’s how I think of it.
    So today, I kept my lights twinkling on that tiny tree all day. Candles burning in my teeny Christmas candleholders. I am getting out the gifts I bought months ago and stashed away and thinking what an excellent friend I am to have grabbed those items for the fireplace mantels and tables of a couple of lucky folks (ha ha!). Tomorrow I get the Elvis and Aaron Christmas music out. It is making me feel a lot better, Tipper. There is already too much sadness in the world.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I have my tree up already – only because my daughter who now lives in FL with my two precious granddaughters was here over Thanksgiving and put it up for me. I am thankful for our modern conveniences like phones and video cameras so that we can stay in close contact with each other. While it’s not the same as them being right here so that I could hug them every day, it’s better than having to write a letter and wait on it to be delivered. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to be so far away from your family – not even knowing that you had a new grandchild, or that your daughter was OK. It’s a good thing they had so much work to do so that they didn’t have time to think about their problems as much.
    Even today with email – you just can’t express the same emotions when writing it down as you can when you are saying it in person. I miss them terribly(but I’m becoming a really good text-er) and can’t wait till the day they come back in for Christmas. So to those of you are fortunate enough to have your family close by, treasure them, treasure every minute you have together – don’t ever take it for granted that they will always be there.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Tipper – You know how I love these old letters. It reminds me of the Christmas’ in the late 1800’s written by my great-grandmother – though times and no gifts but letters made the days brighter. I’m happy that this one helped you get your Christmas spirit back.

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    December 5, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    We just put up our tree today. Our church has stopped selling trees (they were nice and pretty inexpensive), but we found a nice lot selling them very near our house for almost as cheap. Our Christmas will be pretty simple this year, but all the best stuff is simple and costs little to nothing – church, putting decorations on the tree, and cooking Christmas food. Reading everyone’s memories and stories about Christmas has helped me to get the Christmas Spirit. Thanks for posting that letter, Tipper.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Glad you found your spirit. The girls probably wouldn’t let you go for very long, would they?

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    We always put up the Nativity set. It is identical to the one from my childhood. It goes on the top of the piano. Red candles go in the candlesticks. Simple decorations. Like many others we are having a simple, budget conscious Christmas. The important things are to remember why we celebrate the holiday, and be around those we love.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Tipper, that was a very nice letter and one that sounds good to read over and over again.
    I look forward to seeing a picture of your christmas trees. We just went and cut one down this morning. We went back to having a real tree cause we love the smell of the outdoors in the house. As soon as it is decorated I will show you.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    good for you….to me when I put up all my christmas decorations its a time of reflection of all the wonderful and not so wonderful things that have happened in the past year and how the Lord has always been with me!

  • Reply
    December 5, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Enjoyed your story, Tipper. I’ve been kind of down lately, too. Getting decorations from the attic has brought back memories of when the kids were little and it had me wishing they were still little. I would love to find an old letter like that. I do have an old letter that my aunt wrote to my mom when Mom was pregnant with my oldest sister. I treasure it.

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