Appalachia Christmas

Gathering Greenery for Christmas


“Other days they went to certain ridges where the mistletoe was known to grow in the bare branches of oak and black gum trees. Though the children knew next to nothing of Santa Claus and all the modern paraphernalia of Christmas, they attached a special significance to the holly and mistletoe. Why, they did not know. Corie and Sally had long been in the habit of bringing these evergreens into the house at Christmastime. Some of the children knew that the holly tree had once been a thorn bush,  and because it had made thorns for Christ’s head was forever condemned to stand all winter in the cold, shedding blood, and holding its leaves to the snow and cold without folding them away in buds as did the other trees.

They gathered cedar, too, and often on the ridge sides they found wintergreen, the leaves of which were good for tea, and the berries better than any candy, so the children said, but by some wordless agreement they never ate any, but gave the small red bits of spiciness to Teacher. Though she cared little for them, she would take and eat all they gave her, and the children would be pleased because they had given something to Teacher.”

“Mountain Path” – Harriette Simpson Arnow


“Mountain Path” is one of my favorite books. If you’ve never read it you should.


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  • Reply
    December 21, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I enjoy most of the local greenery outdoors and tend not to gather it, but yesterday I went and bought a balsam tree at the local greenhouse, and now it’s soaking up water and making my porch smell wonderful. I thought of your tree when I brought it in, Tipper – even after I trimmed the trunk, it still touches the ceiling at the low end of the porch! Lights will be going on the branches soon, to be lit up at 5:23 PM tonight – the moment of Winter Solstice here. And it will help make this gloomy, rainy day a lot more cheerful!

  • Reply
    December 20, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    Enjoying all your Christmas posts especially this one. Gathering greenery to decorate at Christmas is always fun. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas to you nd your family.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 20, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I love gathering greenery for Christmas decorations….Cedar fills the house with an aroma that stays in the corner of ones mind for years…So many things a person can make with just a few branches of Cedar. Holly and Mistletoe also is a favorite and even some dark green Ivy to wrap around branches… There is nothing prettier than a large plain crystal vase with branches of Holly…”What no red berries on it”…Well, fill the bottom with small plastic or glass red marbles or bulbs…then hang some of those mini red ornaments on the Holly branches…Mistletoe…always hung with a ribbon over a dining room doorway where guests get an unexpected kiss or use in a Kissing Ball…I posted on here years ago…How about those huge leathery Magnolia leaves…either pick up and wire to a branch or use a fresh branch…some folks like to spray them silver or gold..Me, I just love them natural deep green…Pine also is a favorite for a filler for Kissing Balls or Balsam or for tying together, attaching a big bow for the mailbox, step rails or doorway…My Daddy said they would gather Ground Ivy in long pieces for trailing across a fireplace or wrapped in a large circle for a wreath…I lost one of my stands when they cut out the pines…they are an undergrowth plant…I won’t gather much anymore due to trying to save what we have on the North side. Teaberry is still abound. Don’t forget the Galax leaves! I could go on and on about all the greenery available to use for Christmas décor..Also, Pine cones of different shapes, sprayed white, gold or silver glitter decorated…or natural hung by colorful ribbons and a bow…I love Christmas decorations the natural way….
    Have you checked in with Don Casada this year?…He and his wife make the most beautiful door decorations using natural plants from his yard and woodland trips…
    Loved this post today….
    It has been raining…most of the day today…wishing for clear days or and snow…Does anyone know why a cloudy, cold day with big fluffy snow flakes makes one feel much better than a deep dark cloudy drenching rainy day….?
    Thanks Tipper…keep dry if you are out and about today…

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 20, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Tipper–I’m surprised she didn’t mention galax, although it’s possible it didn’t grow in Arnow’s native stomping grounds (Kentucky, if memory serves). It was an important plant for mountain folks in Yuletides of yesteryear, not only because of the beauty offered by its shiny leaves of bright green and magenta, but because city folks paid perfectly good cash money for it during the Christmas season. Gallackers, as folks who gathered it were known, worked with a will during early December to earn a bit of money from what nature provided.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Roger Brothers
    December 20, 2018 at 11:41 am

    One of my favorite traditions around Lone Star goat farm is gathering up all the kids now grandkids and taking them and my old twice barrel out to get our mistletoe. I’ll shoot up amounst a big clump and it will shower down like rain, the younguns will squeal and run to be the one to gather up the most. Let a couple of the older ones take a shot themselves last year.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    December 20, 2018 at 10:57 am

    tipper i never heard that story either of the holly bush…i love learning how things got their meanings…thank you for sharing..i think with this busy life nowdays..we forget the true meanings of christmas…..
    sending love and ladybug hugs
    xo lynn

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 20, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Forgot to mention, you pick the teaberry leaves and rub them between your hands then rub them on your skin. The aroma will stay with you all day. Teaberry cologne! Maybe I could patent that and get rich!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 20, 2018 at 10:44 am

    There is a place up on Wiggins Creek were those wild teaberries (wintergreen) grow in abundance. It is on the ridge that crosses over to Wesser Creek. In amongst them are an edible white berry that I don’t know the name of. The plants are entirely different although about the same size. The white berries look like a huckleberry only smaller. We used to eat them together. We called them snowberries but only because they were white.
    One that same ridge is where quartz crystals grow. Clear, smokey and rose. Lying right on top of the ground. Harold found a cluster of clear quartz crystals that had five fingers like a hand.

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    December 20, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Wow we are having storms & tornado watches here today! We have lots of mistletoe
    here & with these storms I can expect to see lots on the ground! I will check on getting that book.

    • Reply
      December 22, 2018 at 12:10 am

      Sherry Whitaker, stay safe and warm! About that mistletoe, I usually have it growing in joyful abundance in the Bradford Pear trees growing outside my kitchen window. This year’s high winds, and particularly the last two hurricanes, have robbed them of their winter glory. Last year, using an old wooden five step ladder, I gathered enough to share with loved ones. As I am eager for the evergreen to replenish, no one will get mistletoe this year=( Merry Christmas to you!

  • Reply
    Maxine Appleby
    December 20, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Such a lovely description of the joys of Christmas ! Simple, abundant gifts of nature given by children with a loving heart – this is the story that captures the mountain ways in with such beauty. This one has captured Christmas in my heart for many years to come!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    December 20, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I had never heard the story of the Holly tree being a thorn bush and used on Christ’s head.
    We have gathered holly and mistletoe for Christmas time, although not for many years. Years ago I saw some enterprising young people selling mistletoe at one of the mall parking lots. I believe that would still be a good way for anybody to make extra Christmas money that had access to lots of mistletoe.
    When Dad, a brother, and me were up on the hill side of the family farm my brother found these low growing red berries and didn’t know what they were. Dad had us pick a handful of them and give to him. He ate em and laughted! He called them mountain tea berries. They do taste a lot like teaberry chewing gum. That was over 60 years ago, but anytime I run across mountain tea berries (wintergreen} I eat the berries or chew the leaves.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2018 at 8:31 am

    I saw a lot of Mistletoe in NC but I didn’t notice any further South. When Christmas came to Goose Hollow in MS, the oldest two sisters of seven girls would go out into the woods to look for the perfect Christmas Tree and they would also find holly to bring back to decorate the house.

    I read that if you are considering harvesting mistletoe to bring indoors during the holiday, be sure to place it carefully. The white berries of NC native mistletoe are poisonous and may cause stomach and intestinal irritation with diarrhea, lowered blood pressure, and slow pulse if ingested. While an average adult would have to eat several berries before becoming sick, pets and children may be more sensitive. Make sure to keep mistletoe well out of their reach.
    Read more at:

    Tipper, that book really sounds interesting, so i will check that out.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2018 at 8:00 am

    I have read Arnow’s book, “The Dollmaker” two or three times, the first being in high school. After the war, my parents moved from Florida to Michigan for jobs in the ‘car factories’, so the book made an impact on me for many reasons. The movie was equally moving.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 20, 2018 at 6:48 am

    Tip, that’s a beautiful snippet of a time gone by, thanks!

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