Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Favorite Christmas Song: Oh, Holy Night

Before I went to sleep last night, I listened to my favorite Christmas song, Oh, Holy Night. I decided to pull up the lyrics on my phone and take a few minutes to meditate on what Christmas is truly all sweet Savior's birth. This is a song that can ALWAYS bring me to tears. To think about what a humble beginning the King of kings had and the sacrifice He makes my heart fill up so much that the tears just come. 
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As I was reading the lyrics, I couldn't help but read the third verse over and over again. This song was written 170 years ago (if you'd like to know about the history of the song, you can go here) and it couldn't be more relevant for today. This is what our nation world needs more than anything.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, 
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Tonight, I hope that you'll take some time to reflect on what Christmas is really about. I pray that each of you have a blessed Christmas. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Candle In The Window

The tradition of placing burning candles in the windows during Christmas has its roots in Irish culture. Many people, including myself, still practice this custom and the history behind it is very interesting.

During the British persecution, religion was suppressed throughout Ireland and the people had no churches. Priests were known to hide in forests and caves and they would secretly visit homes to say Mass during the night. 

Every Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest come to their home so they could receive sacraments and offer hospitality. When Christmas came around, the Irish families would leave their doors unlocked and would place a lit candle in the window. This was a sort of signal to let any priests who happened to be in the area know they were welcome and to let the candles guide them to the homes during the dark night.

The priest would enter silently through the unlocked door and was welcomed by those who were grateful that their home would be used to worship and celebrate Jesus' birth. 

Over time, the British persecutors became suspicious and asked what the lit candles were all about. The faithful Irish explained that they burn the candles and keep the door unlocked so that Mary and Joseph, who searched for a place to stay, could find their way to our homes and be welcomed with open doors and open hearts. The British soldiers thought that it was a harmless superstition and didn't bother suppressing it.

I didn't know the history behind the candle until recently. I just thought that the battery operated candles looked pretty in my windows. Now, they mean much more. I want them to represent John 8:12 - "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

Do you leave a burning candle in your window during Christmas? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Appalachian Traditions: Christmas Plays and Treat Bags

Very few things say "It's Christmas" to me like going to a church Christmas play and getting a treat bag. My church had our play this past Sunday evening and everyone was gifted a treat bag as they left. This has been a part of Christmas my entire life and there are still many churches who practice this tradition throughout Appalachia.

I believe this started as a way to ensure that the children throughout the communities would at least get one treat during the Christmas season. For a lot of children who grew up in the mountains, this may have been the only gift that they could expect. While the bags were initially intended for the children, they are now given to folks of all ages. I'm sure this still stirs up some sweet memories for all generations.

What could you find in a Christmas treat bag? There almost always was an apple, orange, candy cane, a pack of chewing gum, and a few chocolates. Some things never change and why would we want them to? 

Do you remember getting Christmas treat bags at church? Do the churches in your area still practice this tradition? What kinds of things did you find in your bags? I would love to hear from you...let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Oranges

When I was growing up, we rarely got anything in our stockings. My parents had a hard enough time being able to put a few gifts under the tree. They didn't see the point of wasting money on little things that ended up getting broke or lost within a week. On the rare occasions that we did have something in them, we would find an orange, apple, or candy cane. I can remember not being very impressed because we had access to fresh fruit all year but that wasn't always the case for people in Appalachia.

Money wasn't something that could easily be found in early Appalachia. Things like candies, toys, and fresh fruit were hard to come by. An orange would have been an enormous gift at that time. Once I started researching the history behind this tradition, I recalled a book that helped explain how rare an orange was in 1850's Appalachia:
I remember trying to return the favor by giving him one of a pair of oranges that the teamsters had left as a treat. Bear had not experienced oranges before, and he watched me eat mine before he started on his own.
It took him an hour to finish. He peeled it slowly and studied the differing sides of the peels and smelled them and smelled his fingers. Then he ate each section very slowly, sniffing each one before he put it in his mouth. He savored every moment of his consumption of that orange. When he was done he collected all the pieces of peel and dried them in the sun like deer jerky. A month later, they had lost most of their color, but they still held the ghost of the orange's aroma, and Bear kept them in a gourd sealed with a wooden stopper to hold in the scent that would have to do him until another orange made its way into the mountains. 
- Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

There is some history behind Christmas oranges. St. Nicholas was a bishop before he became a saint. The story says that he rode through a town where a storekeeper had three beautiful daughters and couldn't afford to offer a dowry for them. This meant that the girls would become destitute once their father passed away.

Bishop Nicholas knew that the father was a proud man so he tossed three sacks of gold through an open window (or chimney depending on who is telling the story) while the family was sleeping. One of the bags landed in the toe of a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. When the family got up the next morning, they found the gold, including the one in the stocking which had turned into a ball overnight. 

Giving an orange today is a way to celebrate generosity without expecting anything in return. It symbolizes that gold ball and is a reminder to care for those in need.

Who knew there was so much behind a piece of fruit in a Christmas stocking? Did you get an orange in your stocking?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Superstitions & Folklore In Appalachia

Christmas is a magical time not only in Appalachia but throughout the world. There are more traditions associated with this holiday than any other. With Appalachia being rich in superstitions and folklore, I thought it would fun to find a few centered around Christmas to share with you. 

  • Eating an apple on Christmas Eve will bring you good luck during the next year.
  • Ghosts will never appear to their family on Christmas Day.
  • Listen closely to a bee hive on Christmas Eve and you will hear bees humming the Psalms. It is also believed that bees hum the hundredth Psalm from dusk until dawn on Old Christmas (January 6).
  • Children who are born on Christmas Day will not be troubled by ghosts and do not have to fear hanging or drowning.
  • Water is said to turn to wine at midnight on Christmas Eve but it is bad luck to taste it. 
  • A rooster crowing on Christmas Eve scares away evil spirits. Shooting off fireworks or guns works too.
  • Christmas Day weather forecasts the weather for the coming year: a warm Christmas foretells a cold Easter; a green Christmas, a white Easter; a windy Christmas will bring a good corn crop.
  • It is bad luck for a cat to meow on Christmas Day. If it does, you will be visited by evil spirits every day during the coming year.
  • Children born on January 6th (Old Christmas) often develop the powers for healing the sick.
  • If you sit under a pine tree on Christmas Day, you can hear angels sing but if you hear them, you'll be on your way to heaven before the next Christmas.
Have you heard any Christmas superstitions or folklore? I'd love to hear them so please let me know in the comments. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

December Appalachian Book Giveaway

I can't believe that it's already December, can you? I also can't believe that it has been almost 4 months since I started this little blog. Time just keeps flying by! As a way to say thank you to those of you who have taken time out of your busy days to allow me to share a little of what I love with you, I am going to be giving away some books! Mrs. Barbara Taylor Woodall was kind enough to give me two signed copies of her books to share with y'all. Today, I'm going to offer the first one: It's Not My Mountain Anymore.

Before I get in to all of the giveaway details, let me tell you a little bit about Mrs. Woodall. She was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia and is a veteran of the Foxfire books. FOXFIRE, Y'ALL! I can't tell you how excited I was to be talking (via instant messenger) to someone that had a part in such an iconic series. I love those books! Her authentic, Appalachian voice moves throughout these stories of what it was like to grow up in the mountains. A book that can make you laugh and cry is a sure sign of a great writer. You can find this book and the one that I'll be giving away next week here.

All you need to do is click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the directions. This giveaway will run until 12AM on 12/16/16. You can come back daily to invite one friend to like the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page and will receive 1 entry for each friend that you invite. You can also subscribe to receive my blog posts by email by entering your email address right here on  the website. That isn't included in the Rafflecopter entries but will get you an extra entry! Be sure to check back for next week's giveaway as well. :)

*I will announce the winner of this giveaway on Friday, 12/16/16 at 7PM (EST) on the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page. You will have until 7PM on 12/20/16 to message me your mailing information. If I do not hear from you by then, a new winner will be chosen. I really don't want to have to do that so be sure to like and follow the Facebook page to receive all winner updates.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cornbread & Milk

Earlier this week, I made a big pot of deer chili and a cake of cornbread to go with it. The chili was good but I only had one thing on my mind when I pulled that sizzlin' Lodge skillet from the oven - I was going to get to enjoy a big glass of cornbread and milk for a snack that evening. It is so good and can be a meal all by itself. In fact, I've enjoyed it for a meal countless times. You know those days when you're just a little hungry but a sandwich just ain't going to cut it? A glass full of crumbled up, warm cornbread with sweet milk poured over it...yeah, that'll hit the spot. This is something that has been enjoyed in Appalachia for generations.

My Granny and Pa are the ones who introduced me to this delicious tradition. They usually used sweet milk (regular whole milk) but also enjoyed buttermilk. I've never been able to drink buttermilk so I always use sweet milk. 

In Ronni Lundy's incredible cookbook, Victuals: An Applachian Journey, with Recipes, she says:
"Give us this day our daily cornbread..." could be the standard grace for tables all around the mountain South." She is absolutely right. It is a regular item on the table throughout southern Appalachia. I'm so glad, aren't you?! 

Some people argue whether sugar should be included. Personally, I don't add sugar but I think it should be up to the cook...if you like it sweet, knock yourself out! I do have one rule that should never be broken when it comes to cornbread: You MUST bake it in a cast iron skillet and preferably, one made by Lodge. I prefer to use American made products and something that will last for a very long time. You get both of those things when you purchase and use Lodge brand products. 

Growing up, we ate cornbread with just about every meal. I never thought much about it until I went away to college. We had spaghetti in the cafeteria and I mentioned that I would like to have some cornbread to go with it. You would have thought that I had grown a second head! My college friends quickly informed me that my bread preference should be garlic bread not cornbread. Like I said, we ate cornbread with just about everything, including spaghetti.They didn't know how good of a thing they were missing. 

Are you a fan of cornbread and milk?