Our Appalachian people held to time honored superstitions and traditions regarding the Christmas season. The Old World traditions were carried to the mountains by the early settlers. While a few have remained, most have changed to fit the modern times or disappeared altogether. Here are just a few traditions and superstitions that we have at least heard about if not remember from times past.
One tradition is serenading. This tradition was done with large groups of people going from house to house singing, banging on pans, buckets, anything that would make noise. This was an old tradition meant to ward away evil spirits. We now have transferred this to a less noisy tradition of caroling.
Another is bringing in Christmas with ringing of the church bells. Every Christmas eve, someone in the community, usually the one closest to the church would ring in the 12 days of Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas, originally started on December 24 and lasted until January 6, was also known as Old Christmas, or the Epiphany. Christmas was celebrated on January 6 until the late 1500’s when the Roman Catholic Church changed the date to December 25. The acknowledgement of Old Christmas was continued in our mountains for years and is still celebrated by some.
Another superstition is that at midnight on December24, all the animals kneel to pray and can talk.
It was once thought that if candles are in the window, strangers are welcomed to the home.
We have the Scots to blame for fruitcake. Originally called the Twelfth Night Cake, to be eaten on Old Christmas, it’s ingredients were fruit, nuts, and whiskey. Eating it was considered good luck.
As the years passed the tradition got changed and along with the fruitcake being good luck, so was the old fashioned stack cake. To eat a piece of stack cake on Christmas day also ensured good luck the following year.
Another superstition involved ashes. Ashes from fireplaces or stoves would never be carried out of the house until old Christmas was over. Death with surely visit the house if the ashes are taken out between December 25 and January 6. Likewise, Christmas trees should never be taken out from under the roof of the house until January 6.
Hearing a cricket on the hearth is a sign of good luck for the coming year.
A warm Christmas brings a cold Easter, and vice versa. A green Christmas brings a white Easter.
Christmas is a time for celebration, family and acknowledging the birth of the Christ Child. No one does Christmas like we here in Appalachia. Our traditions make us who we are and make our Christmases unique and unforgettable.