Appalachia Christmas crafts

The Tradition of Making a Christmas Cross

Today’s guest post was written by Don Casada.

the tradition of the Christmas Cross

I reckon there are other places in this world where the connection to place is strong, but it’s hard to imagine a pull which could be stronger than that for some of us who grew up in what were then remote reaches of the mountains of western North Carolina. It was a place and time of no television (at least in our family), where the nearest road with more than two lanes was more than 50 miles away, where all the school buses were driven by students (I was one of those drivers), and where a boy who wanted to go squirrel hunting could walk through town with his shotgun draped over the crook of his arm (or, as I did a couple of times, carry it on the school bus I drove) and no one raised an eyebrow.

Just before Christmas each year, Susan (a city girl whose heart has also been “taken holt” of by these mountains) and I go wandering to collect some vegetation to make into a “Christmas Cross.” In 2015, all the materials came from three old Casada family home places, including:

1) the only home which my great-grandparents ever owned (and that wasn’t until late in life) on Licklog Creek in Clay County – a place now owned by friend Wade Patterson who fully understands the connection to place,
2) the home place to which my father’s childhood memories were most closely attached, and
3) the home where I was raised and now live – a place which Mama and Daddy acquired not long after they were married for $2,500, some 75 years ago (the home was about 50 years old at the time).

There was over twenty different plants in that year’s cross; it didn’t include what is perhaps my Christmas favorite – galax – for the simple reason that I didn’t spot any at the home places.

Ironically, when Tipper emailed me to ask if she could share our Christmas Cross tradition I had just come inside after putting up and photographing this year’s Christmas Cross, so I added some Blind Pig greetings. With the exception of a stem with seed pods from a lilly (I think) that Annette bought and I planted at the BC cemetery last year, all of the stuff came from around the house. Some of the fixings are similar to those from 2015 – broom sage and nandina are most obvious. But it also has some stuff I’ve never used before, including okra stalks and pods, marigold seed pods, gladiola leaves, wild clematis, azalea cuttings, a red bud leaf, oak leaves, sourwood leaves (as well as blooms, which I’ve used before), honey locust seed pods and garlic leaves.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a blest New Year,

Don Casada


I hope you enjoyed learning about Don and Susan’s Christmas Cross Tradition. Ever since Don told me about it I’ve wanted to do something similar, but I haven’t managed to accomplish it yet. But who knows maybe next Christmas I’ll make it happen!


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  • Reply
    harry adams
    December 20, 2017 at 10:00 am

    The Christmas cross is ideal for this time of year. Using dried “fruits” and leaves from the end of the year and expecting a rebirth next year.
    My wife as all of her siblings were student school bus drivers. One of our friends is a school bus driver and when we start telling her how things used to be done down south her mouth goes open in astonishment. What she doesn’t take into account is that children were much more disciplined 55 years ago and a 16 year old then was expected to be grown and didn’t have a cell phone to distract them. I don’t ever remember any accidents with school buses then. and the driver was required to keep the bus clean as well.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    December 19, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    This is just beautiful! I have never heard of making a Christmas Cross, but it is right up my alley as I love making arrangements with natural materials. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 19, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks, all, for the comments, and thanks, Tipper for the post.
    The Christmas Cross is, as far as I know, something that we came up with ourselves, so I guess it’s just a family tradition and so it’s not surprising that several folks hadn’t heard of it. But we’d be delighted to have others take it on – or maybe follow the lead of Billy Graham’s book “The Cradle, Cross, and Crown” and have all three elements.

  • Reply
    Leon Estes
    December 19, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing about the tradition of making a Christmas Cross. I had not heard of this before – – having grown up in Oklahoma. (Yes, I was a “flat-lander”!)

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 19, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t remember hearing about Christmas Crosses. I hope to make one next year. Any tips would be welcome.

  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Since I never had a Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving, I got one of Mrs. Smith’s a coolin’. And I e-mailed Nora and Scott Cutshaw ( my niece and her husband, near Seattle, Wash. ) about that train wreck in Dupont that was going too fast. She was OK and her husband had some of his employees stuck on that Interstate where the Train derailed.
    When I was in the 6th or 7th grade, daddy let me take a .303 British Army High Powered Rifle to School. He had removed the clip, and I waited for the School Bus. No one bothered to take it from me, even when I got to school. The gun had a bugle on the end to keep down the flare when shot. It was a Big hit! …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 19, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Speaking of school bus drivers, I remember one incident when my great uncle Sweetbread was the bus driver. It was on or about February 23rd 1959. We were going home from school and the route took us by Hightower Church. We didn’t go by that day though. Uncle Sweetbread stopped the bus there at the church and took us all off. We went single file into the church and slowly walked by the casket of a young man, a cousin, from the neighborhood who had recently died. We were seated in the pews and remained there until the funeral service was over then loaded back onto the bus and continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was dark when we got home.
    Can you imagine what a ruckus something like that would cause if it happened today? CNN and Fox would be all over it. It would be splattered across Facebook and Youtube.

  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I’m glad you had Don and Susan to put their homeade Cross on your Blog. They are my friends too. I’m impressed that they take the Time to do so much work at the Bryson City Cemetery. I know Don’s Much Older brother Jim, and love to read his Newsletter. Never met their sister, Annette, but have e-mailed some with her. They’re Good Folks and I often wonder if daddy and their Dad ever knew each other. They were both born in 1910. Nice Post. …Ken

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos. Columbia Station OH
    December 19, 2017 at 11:19 am

    In my area of Ohio I have never seen a cross decorating a door at Christmas …. and as believers we could have one there year ’round. How beautiful it is and meaningful for all of us who love the Savior.
    Eleanor Loos, Columbia Station, OH

  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 11:11 am

    I also carried a gun to school and shot rabbits and squirrels on the way as well as checking my traps. I put them in a tow sack and hung them in an oak tree near the school coal pile until the afternoon. It was cold enough that there was never spoilage. I stood my gun in the corner behind the teacher and put my cartridges in her desk. The only other rule she had was I had to leave the school grounds before loading it again.

  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Honoring our sense of place in family history and in Christian heritage – what a meaningful and beautiful tradition; and this year’s product is a lovely and artistic representation. Thanks for sharing, Don.

  • Reply
    Julie Moreno
    December 19, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for sharing this and the meaning behind it.

  • Reply
    Dan O’Connor
    December 19, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for sharing Don.
    Wishing you and all your family a Merry Christmas and the very best in the coming year.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 19, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I learned of Don and Susan’s tradition a few years back….Wonderful and he does great work placing and using what is available for the cross…I love it…
    We always made our door decoration every year when I lived at home. When others gave up the idea and began purchasing plastic bells and greenery back in the fifties…Mom and I were still flocking cedar and pine and adding fresh bows and a new coat of paint to pine cones for our door!
    Thanks Tipper and Don for sharing..

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 19, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Ehat a beautiful decoration for your door. I love the tjought behind it

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    December 19, 2017 at 9:30 am

    I really enjoyed this post on how the cross was made. I admire Mr. Casada. What a wonderful way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    December 19, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Hughes de Payens, a French nobleman, founded The Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem in 1119, a military order dedicated to the protection of pilgrims traveling through Palestine to reach the Holy City. Red crosses on white shields expressed the Templar motto, adopted from the Vision of Constantine, “By This Sign Thou Shalt Conquer!” Pope Honorius sanctioned the Poor Knights in 1128, saluting the crusading Order as an “army of God.”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 19, 2017 at 8:39 am

    A Christmas cross is a great tradition. And collecting the materials from those special places is better still.
    I agree with Don so much about carrying the shotgun. Something is so wrong with us as a people when anyone with a gun is to be suspected and feared. He touched on something else as well – character. I think there are lots of young people still who are responsible but they don’t get the attention (as is usually true of responsible people everywhere.)
    I grew up without TV also and don’t recall feeling deprived. To this day I don’t care much about it. I sit where I can’t see it and read.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 19, 2017 at 8:38 am

    What a beautiful tradition.
    I never heard of a Christmas Cross before. We always made one for Easter.
    It hung on the front door and was made also from things on our property.
    Sometimes my Mother would buy a pot of lilies and snip one to add to the cross. If the weather was really cold she would not add the lily.
    Merry Christmas to the whole Blind Pig Gang.

  • Reply
    Myra Henry
    December 19, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Traditions are always interesting and this another one. I must say I have never heard of making a Christmas cross before. Is it to be placed on the front door and what does it signify other than reverence to the baby Jesus? Love this idea. Merry Christmas.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 19, 2017 at 6:29 am

    It’s a lovely cross and a wonderful tradition, Don, thank you for sharing with us!

  • Reply
    shelia henning
    December 19, 2017 at 5:26 am

    Love this story! Such a wonderful way to remember our past and worship our Savior!

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