Christmas Heritage Holidays in Appalachia

Christmas Traditions From Appalachia

If you celebrate Christmas, I’m sure you have some traditions that go along with it. Sometimes traditions are handed down from past generations-sometimes we start them on a whim and they weave their way into all our future Christmas Holidays too.

Christmas traditions in appalahcia

We always make sugar cookies for Christmas. I remember Granny making them each year when my brothers and I were little-and as we got older we took over the cookie making. I’ve been using Granny’s hand written recipe to make sugar cookies every Christmas since the girls were born-I’m betting they continue the tradition with their children someday too.

We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus each Christmas morning. I started the tradition when the girls got big enough to understand about presents-I wanted to make sure we included the reason for the season in our merry making-and we’ve been doing it ever since.

The Deer Hunter makes a big pot of Oyster Stew each Christmas Eve-he’s carrying on a tradition passed down to his father, Papaw Tony, from his Grandfather, James.

One old tradition I know about-but have never done myself-is Christmas Gift. When I was growing up, Granny and her sisters had a contest each Christmas to see who could call the other first on Christmas morning and say “Christmas Gift”. Later in the day, when we’d go to Granny Gazzie’s, folks who came in the door would say the phrase “Christmas Gift” too.

I recently read the phrase is an old game. You were supposed to see if you could say the words before your family or friends said them too you. Maybe this Christmas morning I’ll call Paul and Steve at the break of dawn and shout Christmas Gift to them over the phone and continue the old tradition-think I should?

Hope you’ll leave me a comment and tell about your Christmas traditions.



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  • Reply
    Melinda Kessler
    December 11, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Wonderful tradition memories! Thanks to you & all for sharing them.

    Mom & Dad brought their 5 kids up with many. In her latter years Mom said she heard a piece about traditions & she & Dad decided to implement them. From the time I remember we would sing Christmas songs & hymns by candlelight on Christmas Eve. The youngest child would choose the song first, then each in tern. After the grandchildren & greats came along we had so many that each couple chose one between them. Eggnog was served at the end.

    The buffet food was served before singing after we got older. Mom made scalloped oysters w/butter, cream & cracker crumbs alternating w/oysters & baked half or 3/4 of an hour.
    Delicious! Being a farmer, Dad usually had finished harvest & took time to explore the Columbus & Cincinnati newspapers for interesting recipes. We had Plum pudding, Cherries Flambé, & other of his creations. One of his ‘discoveries, Lebkukken, is still made these many years later.

    Mom went all out shopping for gifts for each of her children, in-laws, grands & greatgrands. We always had a Cedar tree from the farm – smelled Wonderful!

    Dad put a big log in the fireplace on top of a bit of last years Yule log. As long as that big log burned Christmas lasted. Then a chunk was taken out to the wood house to save for next year.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  • Reply
    Becky Nicks
    January 28, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Funny! I can remember Dad would get us up as soon as Santa visited out house. I mean if it was 2:00am that’s when we got up!! Can you believe it? I also remember Aunt Jean calling us and shouting “Christmas Gift!” However, my favorite memory is of Granny Jenkins. My dad would bundle us up, my sisters and I, and we would go to her house every Christmas morning. She would cook us breakfast and then we would sit with her while she opened her gifts w/ a paring knife. Lord, forbid you waste the paper. When she passed away, my Aunt Geneive found tons of paper boxed away. I’m not sure what she did w/ it but I wish I had some of it now. I miss her so, but it makes me happy to remember her and the sweet things we did together!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    I’ve never heard of the Christmas Gift tradition. Sounds like a fun one, though.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    December 23, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Tipper: I can remember a lot of tough times but my parents always managed to give us a toy for Christmas. Our stocking always had the biggest orange and apple they could get and it was always delicious. Clothing was a big part of Christmas gifts.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    December 23, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    My mother always made oyster stew on Christmas Eve, so I assumed it was an English tradition. But I just did a bit of internet searching and discovered its origins are Irish and German, so it must have been something she did for my father, whose mother was German and his father Irish. I don’t care for it and have never made it that I can remember.
    I carry on many of my mother’s other traditions, though–the kissing ball, making fruitcakes and mince pies, greenery in the house, etc. She passed on much to us in the way of happy Christmas memories because she loved the holidays so much.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    December 23, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    You have such great Christmas traditions Tipper. When I read this I had tears in my eyes.
    You see, my Christmas tradition with our Mom was my getting her something small and wrapping it. Then the tag would have her real name on it, not just Mom. It was what I called ‘The Santa Present.’ It was hers and hers alone from Santa. I would come into the house and say, ‘Mom, this was left on the front steps for you.’ It always made her smile to find something like an ornament, a head scarf, or a handmade little something inside.
    She’s gone now, but I’ll always remember how ‘The Santa Present’ made her feel special. xxoo

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Thank you for sharing these, Tipper. The stew sounds wonderful! We make sugar cookies every year, too. Another thing we do is have pie at midnight on Christmas Eve (well, sometimes we just can’t make ourselves wait until midnight, LOL!).
    I’ve heard of the ‘Christmas Gift’ tradition. I really don’t think my brother would be too happy if I called early Christmas morning and shouted Christmas Gift, LOL! I’ll be interested to hear the reaction if you do it!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Dean, My husbands stew is really simple:
    Heat a gallon of whole milk-don’t let it boil. As it begins to simmer add a stick of butter, lots of black pepper (or too taste). Once the butter has melted-Cut the oysters in half and add them.Let the mixture cook for 2 to 4 minutes and its done. He uses 2 pints of oysters. He got the oysters at Sams but has also bought them at Food Lion. He said they are by the fresh fish.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
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  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 8:45 am

    You certainly need to get on the “horn” and call up those folks shouting “Christmas Gift”! Sounds like a rather fun sort of game. When I was growing up I always received oranges and nuts in my stocking, never any type of toys and never any different type of fruit. Am not sure where this tradition comes from.

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Jennifer-the picture is one Chitter drew years ago to decorate the house for Christmas. Merry Christmas!!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 6:24 am

    My mom’s grandparents came from norhtern Italy to Pittsburgh, then to our little Ohio hilltown. One of our Christmas eve traditions from the old country is bacala, a dish made of salt cod cooked with potatoes in a tomato sauce. I always hated the stuff, but ate one bite anyway, to honor the tradition. No one has made this dish since my grandpa passed, but I think I’ll ask my mom for that recipe. Now that I’m an old grandmommy I’d like my grandbabies to try it – at least once!- to keep the tradition alive. I haven’t thought of bacala in years, thanks for the memory jogger, Tipper! A blessed and very happy Christmas to you and yours and all your readers!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Oyster stew, I have been craving that. How does the deer hunter fix his? I used to enjoy the Campbell’s canned version until I read the label and a serving contains 33% of your daily sodium requirements and there are 5 servings per can and I always ate the whole can… It has been a few years since I have had oyster stew.
    Our family on my mom’s side used to get together when I was 9 or 10 for a milk-based stew. My great uncle Joe would go around collecting meat for the stew from every one’s freezers. Chickens, squirrels, box-trap rabbits,dove, quail, etc. One year, I was able to donate a couple of squirrels and a woodcock. Beautiful bird, I knocked it down by luck with my new single-shot 20 gauge shotgun I got for Christmas. I thought it was a quail rising. I was a much better shot at 12 and coveys of quail have vanished.
    I have been to two local grocery stores, Lowe’s and Food Lion, looking for oysters on ice with no luck in the last week. Just can’t use canned oysters.
    We used to go to my great grandmother’s house on Christmas eve. She seemed very old to me when I was 8 or 9 . My grandfather’s mother. I just remember sitting around the stove and looking calendars and almanacs. She planted and did stuff by the signs.
    One of her sons, brother of my grandpa, served in the Navy during WWII and was killed. Not in the Pacific or Europe; 5 miles from the house while home on leave and crossing a train track in the fog right as a train was coming by. I still cross those tracks weekly, but very slowly.
    What was weird was my great grandma maintained his room as he left it, In the late-60’s, I got a glimpse of my great uncle’s room in the 40’s when he was a teenager.
    The house is gone now, bull-dozed for other family members to park a double-wide on.

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    December 23, 2009 at 12:55 am

    I love the drawing of the tree – who did this?
    The sugar cooking making sounds delightful. I’ve begun making molasses cookies as a tradition; my mother made the best ones when I was a child.
    We also strung popcorn on the tree when I was little, tho I don’t do this anymore.
    Merry Christmas, Tipper!

  • Reply
    December 22, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I know growing up on the farm we didn’t have a lot so mom started a tradition every year all us kids would sit and string popcorn and cranberries to wrap around the christmas tree.
    In my house we buy a new ornament for each year and after I put up the tree and put the lights on it (my job)then it is mom’s turn (Heidi) to decorate it. Oh ya, I forget all of us have our own favorite ornament and we each get to put those on first before any others.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    December 22, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I really enjoyed this posting on Christmas traditions. We also baked sugar cookies, cakes, and made candy for Christmas. I hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Do you plan to attend the annual “Possum Drop” at Clay’s Corner? I might see y’all down there.

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    December 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Our family has donuts at my aunt and uncles house. Have since I was a little girl.
    But I might have to show up at your house for oyster stew. Nobody eats it but me at the house so we never have it.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    December 22, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I liked reading about this tradition! Also liked the violin recital story Chatter is a beautiful child.
    One year our son and I went to spend Christmas with some children at the Children s Shelter. I wish I could say it had become a tradition but I am afraid it didn’t.The children at the shelter blessed us more than we blessed them.

  • Reply
    December 22, 2009 at 10:59 am

    YES! I definitely think you should!! It’s never too late to start a new tradition. And it brings smiles and laughter. With times the way they are we need all of that we can get!
    I’m starting a new tradition this year for the kids. Hiding a Christmas pickle in the Christmas tree. Fun, fun, fun!!

  • Reply
    Just Jackie
    December 22, 2009 at 9:52 am

    We didn’t have too many traditions besides making cookies and candy with my grandma. My favorite one was going to Midnight Mass. The tree at the church had only blue lights on it and I thought that was the most beautiful thing in the world and promised myself I would do that when I had a tree of my own (never did) When we got home from church Santa had been there. Still don’t know how my parents pulled that one off. All 4 generations of us would sit down to a giant breakfast. Sometimes it was almost sunup before we could wind down to get to sleep. Well, all but my brother. He always fell asleep. Everyone slept in. If Hoppy and I got up early we would just play quietly with our toys. When my kids got old enough, we would bake lots of goodies and then take them around to some old folks we knew. I wanted them to know that Christmas was for giving. We went to Midnight Mass, too. But no big breakfast, just off to bed. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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