Appalachia Christmas

December in Appalachia

happy life in Appalachia

December in the Hills – John Parris

December in the hills is a sprig of berry-bright holly, a spray of galax, and a bouquet of mystic mistletoe.

It’s the smell of woodsmoke, the dusty sweetness of the hay barn, the earthiness of a root cellar with mingled odors of potatoes and turnips and onions.

It’s the rhythmic echo of an unseen axeman and the yelp of a hound after a rabbit.

It’s the raucous cry and flashing wing of a bluejay in a naked woodland and the thunder of grouse exploding from the brush.

It’s an old man with memories and a young man with dreams.

It’s an old woman with snow in her hair and a young girl with stars in her eyes.

It’s firelight and starlight.

It’s the season of long nights.

It’s winter talk around the hearth, the cry of a fiddle, the whack-ata-whack of a loom.

It’s a lonesome tune – “One top of old Smoky, all covered with snow…”

And a happy tune – “Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

It’s home-coming cattle swinging into the lane and bringing wistful-like spells with their quaint, comforting, wandering bells.

December is a time when the darkness deepens and the winter closes in.

It’s icy knuckles at the door and frost pictures on the windows.

It’s an open world that invites the foot to roam and the eye to see.

It’s a sky with the look of cold skim milk.

It’s a country road at night with lantern light throwing golden splashes on the snow.

~ December in the Hills written by John Parris


I challenged myself to study on each line above and see if they were still accurate to the mountains of North Carolina today.

√ There is still greenery from the surrounding woods being used to brighten the season.
√ Woodsmoke-yes; hay barn-yes; root cellar-not so much.
√ Axes are still ringing and dogs are still chasing rabbits.
√ Blue jays are still fusing and grouses are still exploding-all be it a little less in my area.
√ Lots of wise old men in my neck of the woods and more than a few young men with dreams…some of which seem to like hanging around my porch.
√ Underneath the hair color Granny has snowy hair and all three of the girls in our family have starry eyes.
√ Just last week we set around a roaring fire-place with friends and walked back to the car with stars to light our way.
√ The nights of winter are still longer.
√ Lots of talking around the fire at the Blind Pig house and there’s a certain fiddling girl sawing away pretty much every day. Most weeks you can hear the sound of a loom if you drop by the JCCFS.
√ Lonesome tunes we got, happy tunes too.
√ No cow bells ringing but plenty of cows on the farm down the road lowing and hoping for the hay truck to come by.
√ Winter = cold and dark – Yep.
√ The back deck was a solid sheet of ice one morning this week and a couple of weeks ago my detergent semi-froze from sitting in the window.
√ Something about this time of the year makes me want to walk in the woods. Maybe it’s because the woods are open and it’s easier to see or maybe it’s because I know how good a cup of hot chocolate will be when we get back cold but refreshed from our outing.
√ The sky looked just like cold milk the other day as Chitter and our made our way through Pine Log.
√ The lantern light is now a flash-light beam and I’m keeping my fingers crossed on the snow part-none yet this year.

So other than the cow bell, root cellar, and lantern light not much is different today than when John Parris wrote about his Decembers so many years ago. Somehow that comforts me.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 21, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    God bless us … everyone.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    Such a beautiful poem, Tipper. Reminds me of home, but we never had the snow. Rural life is similar, I think, wherever you live, especially a century ago.
    Merry Christmas to you, the girls and the Deer Hunter. I hope you all have a healthy and happy New Year.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    December 21, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    God gave me an early Christmas present. In the middle of the mall in Virginia, I saw a lady with a Tennessee shirt. I asked her was she was TN., and if so, where from? She was from my hometown, and we had graduated from the same high school. Her husband was from New York while mine is from Philadelphia. We talked a while, although there was about thirty years age difference. And, she gave me a hug. Can life get better than that? Jan

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    I loved all the words and all the posts today…”words gently spoken are apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    December 21, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    The blog today was exceptional. I loved the poem and your respomse to it. And I loved the great comments from your readers.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Today is the first day of Winter. The Sun is at it’s deepest in our Southern Skies, but each day from now on will get a few minutes longer. I love the Cold and Snowy times. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 21, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    And speaking of birds, the other day when I got home from the store my daughter and grandsons had come down. As I walked onto the carport I noticed a bunch of little black birds chittering and chattering in the upper yard. When I stepped inside I asked my daughter, “Did you ever hear a flock of snowbird?” She said, “Is it going to snow?” “I don’t think so but the snowbirds seem to think it is. Step outside and listen!” She had never heard a snowbird. It didn’t snow!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 21, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I particularly enjoyed your treatise today on John Parris’s “December in the Hills”. So much so that I went on and found an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times from 4 Dec 1993. I presume it was taken from his book “Roaming the Mountains” since he died in 1972. One sentence in the the newspaper version that I didn’t read in your piece is “the distant bark of a dog taking nips out of the silence.”

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I enjoyed today’s blog and John Parris’ look at past Decembers. He’s my favorite Appalachian Writer, but there are others that overwhelm me too.
    One time a few years ago, my uncle (by marriage) made me a bird feeder. After we put it on a post, I had it put close to the house where I could sit by the fire and keep an eye on it. One day about mid-morning some small birds were feeding and a bunch’of Blue Jays come and run ’em all out. In no time at all, I counted 15 of ’em scratching and spilling the birdseed on the ground, where the small birds were fed too. It was as if they looked after the smaller ones and fed them too. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 21, 2016 at 11:53 am

    You just don’t realize how much I loved this post this morning. I laughed out loud at your response to your checklist about the old wise men, (would be a wise-cracker here), young men with dreams and the fact that some are hanging around on your porch! Ha
    Let me tell you I would give anything if I could go back in time just for a few precious minutes: When I walked down behind the barn with my Grandfather on the hill in Madison county. It was so cold. He gave out a few yelps and listened. I just stood there waiting while he listened, with excitement freezing and my heart pounding! He yelled out again and said, “Are you listening?” I was trying! “There she is”, he said almost with relief in his voice! In the distance a cow bell was sounding with a dull thud! I listened as it got closer. You could hear in the sound that the bell was swinging back and forth on the leather strap around her neck. He then gave a call by name for her calf that was with it’s Mama. Suddenly the bell rang quickly as the calf and cow were near trotting up the hill and down thru the fence row lane toward the barn. By then the Mama was answering my Grandpa’s call with a greeting bawl of her own as was the calf. He always talked so sweet to them. He loved those cows and they certainly were his pets. I stood there wishing I had a cow of my own. Later on that Spring, my grandmother said that when they separated the two the calf would bawl and wanted me to feed it. I don’t know if that was true., because I was not there daily, we were living in East Tennessee by that time. But she knew I had taken a liking to those cows and it made me (a little girl) happy!
    Thanks so much for the memories Tipper,
    I loved this post.
    PS…Wish I had a root cellar full of turnips, onions, sweet/red taters, cabbages, etc. We are a lazy lot today!
    We used to use lanterns only when the power went out. Just decorations now with a pine bow for it to sit in! Nowadays, flip a switch on a red battery powered LED ugly red camping lantern!
    The Cowbells only ring when I pick them up and turn them back and forth. I have a piece of leather strap attached to one of them. I have painted scenes on the sides of the large ones for friends thru the years.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 21, 2016 at 11:44 am

    This isn’t really about December or even Appalachia actually and I have already posted once today but …. I was re-reading some of the Granny posts and noted again how our country way of speaking cropped up. And it occurred to me that those who are critical reveal themselves as lacking in grace. What manners the form of words when they come from a heart as good as gold? We do learn in life to treasure the heart message and with it the ‘incorrect’ expression of it. I think that is what the Lord wants to teaach me nust now. I want to be a gra ious person . Chances are in favor of those whom I might be inclined to criticise being more gracious to me than I was to them.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 21, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Miss Cindy’s post reminded me to let you know how much I have enjoyed the lip balm I ordered from Apothecopie! i keep it on the coffee table in the bowl with all my Dollar Tree reading glasses so I have it nearby while lying on the couch reading.
    This made me think of warming in front of the stove before making the run to bed in the icy cold. It took a good while to finally straighten out all the way but I believe we slept better even if it was hard to turn over under all those quilts. Also the huge dishpans of popcorn we all shared. We no longer had cows at that time but we got the government commodities and they included delicious butter. Such a treat — no popcorn has ever been that good since!
    It’s very cold here and we had some icy rain. Icicles are getting longer every day. We always get a cedar tree and had to let it thaw and dry before it could be decorated. I think of you often, Tipper–hope you have a blessed Christmas.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 21, 2016 at 10:28 am

    I like a solitary walk in the woods in winter to. Best is that hush when big flakes of snow are drifting down and the world is being transformed. Then it seems more cozy and personal. Not as good is when the rhododendron leaves hang straight down and are rolled up and there is an icy crust on the ground that snaps and crackles as you walk.
    Speaking of hot chocolate, here is my recipe for one cup of spicy hot chocolate:
    2-3 tablespoons of store-bought chocolate powder
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ancho chili pepper, powdered
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    It sounds odd, but the little heat of the pepper makes it even wamer that just the heat hot. The spice blend can be made up separately then added to taste. For those who really like hot stuff, cayenne, jalapeno, etc can be substituted for ancho. I have not tried smoked jalapeno (chipotle) but it would be worth a try.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Love the picture! There isn’t much I find more comforting than lights in a window on a dark night. In fact, it was the one thing I recall about a long lonely trip through Georgia many years ago. It seemed to take forever to travel Route 1. Mile after mile of Georgia pines broken only by the warm glow from windows along the way. I am certain John Parris would love your study of his lines.

  • Reply
    Barbara N Gantt
    December 21, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Most of this is the same at my house. We only have on fiddle player, more guitars in our family. No bluejays but many geese from Canada that are here for the winter. They dont seem to go South anymore. We all huddle around the wood stove. Love the smell of the smoke. Barbara

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    December 21, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Now, I’m really homesick. Most of those ring true in my memory. And the ones that don’t (the loom for example), are in the stories my parents and great uncles tell around the fire.
    I comfort myself that Appalachia is just as much a state of mind as a place and I am so blessed to have it as my primary frame of reference. Just this morning, I put the dog out in the cold, dark morning and smelled those Hocking County apples we keep in our back, unheated mudroom, and I may as well have been back. I like to think that no matter where I am, I carry where I’m from.
    However, all things bring equal, I’d rather be home where living doesn’t require such complex mental gymnastics.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 21, 2016 at 9:04 am

    Tipper–John Parris had a gifted, sometimes almost magical way of evoking the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the high country. Over the years I’ve delved into his work in considerable detail and feel that it was columns of this kind, ones where sentence after sentence started with “It’s,” that were his real forte.
    Like you, I pondered on each of the things he describes and have heartened by how little things have changed. Sadly, it’s not true of our beloved Appalachia in general. If he had been sufficiently “knowing,” he would have substituted beagle for hound in the sentence connected with rabbits. While a beagle is a type of hound, and while hounds in general will run a rabbit, it is beagles which are best associated with taking to the cottontail trail. As a boy I had enough glorious moments listening to beagles in full chorus to know. I would also note that rabbits are nowhere near as plentiful as they were in John’s heyday.
    The same holds true of grouse numbers, and you allude to that. They are still around, but thanks primarily to decline in suitable habitat, their numbers are far fewer.
    I’m a little surprised that along with root cellars John didn’t mention other ways of storing root crops, pumpkins, candy roasters, and the like. This was done with straw or fodder line holes or in the depths of fodder stacks.
    All in all, a grand choice for a topic.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. I can’t resist titillating you (and your readers) a bit, so be on the lookout for a special surprise sometime within the next four or five weeks. I might add that Chitter and Chatter already know about the surprise, but if they reveal the secret I’ll personally undertake a mission to travel to Brasstown to skin a pair of youthful hides.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Where I live it’s rare to see or hear a blue jay anymore, but I don’t really miss them. There is, however, an over abundance of crows.

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Me too. About 75℅ here. Loved these words

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 21, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Yes, comforting is a good word. I also like the word contentment, it best describes my new life three miles down the road from you. I think we are fortunate, indeed, to still have sounds of axes, blue jays and dogs chasing the things that they chase…a life rich beyond compare.
    I visited two old friends yesterday, two hours drive from here. I took them Christmas presents from Chatter’s Apothecopie store. They were thrilled. It was a deodorant and lip balm for each of them. They first thing they did was open the containers and take a long slow inhale of the divine essential oils that flavor them. My friends were very pleased with their gifts! Thank you Chatter/Copie!

  • Leave a Reply