Appalachia Through My Eyes Appalachian Dialect

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Homecoming

My life in appalachia homecoming decoration day

Homecoming noun An annual event when former members of a church gather for a reunion, including special worship services, and to decorate the graves of the church’s cemetery. The term has largely replaced decoration day.

decoration, decoration day noun An occasion on which a family or church congregation gathers on a Sunday to place flowers on the graves of loved ones and to hold a memorial service for them. Traditionally this involved singing and dinner on the ground as well as a religious service. Same as memorial day, this event was held at various times in the Smokies, usu in the late spring. The term and the occasion have been replaced by homecoming, which is usu celebrated anytime from early May to late September, with each community having its designated day.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Using the term decoration and homecoming to denote a special Sunday for family (near and far flung) along with past (and present) church members to return to a particular church to decorate graves of loved ones, to visit with one another, to listen to special singing, and to partake of dinner on the grounds is still common in my part of Appalachia.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    July 24, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I have a printed piece of paper advertising for home coming. It says, “All Day Meeting, Dinner on the Grounds.
    Sometimes it was held outside because churches did not believe in eating inside the church. Some churches did not even have kitchens or fellowship halls.
    I grew up in a church with a separate fellowship hall several blocks from the church. Th church grew and relocated, still no kitchen about 15 years ago,
    We attend a Homecoming at a different church if we can. It is in October, a sensible time. We were there lat year. That church has had a basement kitchen and area for tables ever since I have known it.

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    June 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I attended a Homecoming event many years ago at Oconaluftee. Most of the people were of Bradley descent. My Grandmother was part of that “Clan.” What a rich experience for one who has become a “Californian.” The old “Lufty” church rocked with the traditional songs “Amazing Grace,” Wayfaring Stranger,” as well as the modern “Rank Stranger,” I treasure the video which captured much of the event in the church and at the “Bradley Cemetery” which is near the church. Memories are precious, especially when shared with family and friends. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 17, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    I remember as a young lad when my Grandpa, Dad and I spent a day or two cleaning the family cemetery at Grave Gap in Swain County. This involved cutting the running briars as this was about all that would grow in the red clay and sandstone soil. After the briars were removed each grave was plowed with the tiller then remounded to look like a new grave. All the families expected this to be done even though few if any of the surviving members showed to help. When we decided to level the graves and lime, fertilize and sew grass so we could keep the cemetery mowed several of those who only showed up to decorate raised a ruckus and demanded their graves be mounded. We obliged them for a few years but when they saw how the mowed graves looked much nicer they asked us to do the same for their family members. Decoration was on the second Sunday of June and involved dinner on the ground and singing for the biggest part of the evening. Todays youth do not seem to honor their ancestors as we did but we are trying to teach our children and grandchildren to at least clean and decorate the cemeteries where their ancestors are interred. It won’t be long until my beloved bride and I will be interred beneath our “Rock” as the younger children call our stone and even though our descendants have a problem seeing our names inscribed on our stone we explain how this is a way of honoring their ancestors and that we hope they don’t let our final resting place grow up like some of the older cemeteries have been allowed to do.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 17, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I have always loved decoration-it is a time to remember, reconnect with old friends, and make new ones. We were forunate to attend homecoming at Buckwheat Church on top of Balli Mtn, WV these past 2 years. Gracious folks, itty bitty church, no electricity, old time preaching, and a true dinner on the ground. My new friend Dave Bowen played hymns on a glass harmonica. We are making it an annual tradition!

  • Reply
    June 17, 2014 at 10:35 am

    I remember graves being decorated with USA flags on Decoration Day. I don’t remember Homecoming being used with a church affiliation, but with your explanation, I would agree that it fits with cemetary/church. Happy Day to all!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 17, 2014 at 10:27 am

    When I was a kid homecoming and “dinner
    on the ground” was a big event. We didn’t have a cemetery or “air conditioning”, and it was held the 2nd
    Sunday in August, hot as the Dickens.
    But the tables were built under huge
    poplar trees, and a cool breeze seemed
    to always blow. Us boys would eat fast
    so we could look for the Chocolate and
    Pecan Pies. After the dinner singers
    and groups from way off took turns at
    the Pulpit. The windows were propped
    open with sticks and I learned to sit
    behind some older ladies that had
    little crinkle-cut fans. Those were
    great memories…Ken

  • Reply
    June 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

    One of my great grandmothers spoke of picnicking at the cemeteries in Switzerland when she was a child but that here (when she lived in Kansas and Texas) people thought that was disrespectful. However, I know that in eastern central Kansas families, church groups, and the VFW would clean cemeteries the week before Memorial Day, then put flags on the graves of veterans and flowers on all other graves on Memorial Day. This was usually followed by pot-luck dinner, a memorial service, and festivities on the church grounds or,after air conditioning, in the church hall. Variations on these traditions are continued today here in South and Central Texas; but, as the cemeteries have become larger and commercial, you don’t see the festivities and ceremonies at or near the cemeteries any more.
    I suppose Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrated along the southern US border, in Mexico, and in many Central and South American countries is a variation on this.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 17, 2014 at 8:29 am

    It is called “Homecoming” at Choestoe where I grew up. The decorating of graves is not done “en masse” as it used to be, but relatives usually try to have new wreaths or new (artificial) flowers in containers at the monuments of relatives in advance of Homecoming Day. The “Homecoming” is still well attended on the second Sunday in June, with many people returning to their roots. That noon meal is still an important aspect of the celebration, with such a spread to choose from! ‘Dinner on the Grounds’ used to be outside on long tables under the trees; now it is in the inside at the ‘fellowship hall’ of the church. Whether singing, greetings, allowing all “returnees” to introduce themselves, preaching, or eating, Homecoming is a day of joy tinged with sadness–for many who used to participate will have found their resting places in the nearby cemetery. Traditions pull at the mind and the heart and are a part of who we are in Appalachia.

  • Reply
    steve in Tn
    June 17, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Too bad we don’t go back for these things very often, but we can always go back in our minds. Dinner on the ground or pot luck dinners are few and far between. So many people don’t cook much, and I have even known people that worried about how the pot luck food was prepared…homes with pets, etc. We never worried about any of that when I was young, but it was a different world then…too bad.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 17, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Tipper, when decoration day or homecoming day were more practiced than they are today all the churches had their own cemetery. Most churches today don’t have a cemetery or it’s full.
    Dinner on the grounds was also popular event but all of these family/church centered events are almost a thing of the past. People have spread out in the world and don’t return to their beginning very often.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 17, 2014 at 7:20 am

    We don’t see this practice so much in the larger towns here in FLorida, but where my mother’s family lived Shingle Creek, there is sa family cemetery next to an old Methodist church, once a year, clean up decorate and dinner on the grounds. This little tiny town has been incorporated by Kissimmee, home of Disney World and has not let the influx of people change their ways.

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