Christmas Trees and Traditions in the Appalachian Region of America

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Traditions Dating to the Early 1700s

As children, my parents both lived in parts of Ohio that are in America's Appalachian Region: Eastern Ohio farmland in Guernsey County and Southern Ohio mining country in Athens County.

The two children that would become my parents were a bit separated by age and a little further separated by heritage, but both were familiar with similar Appalachian traditions for Christmas and New Year's throughout The Great Depression, World War II, and the Baby Boom Era. I was lucky enough to see some of these in the 1960s.

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Christmas in the Mountains

Today, Appalachian Christmas is a much celebrated tourist attraction in many of the states in Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains. Perhaps the most prominent are the in locales such as Dollywood in Tennessee that no one likely could have envisioned during the Depression.

Southern Ohio and Kentucky Christmas celebrations begin after Thanksgiving and last until New Year's Day. The offer festivals, excursion train visits into rural areas, specialized gift markets, and plenty of good homemade foods.

The Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee is one of the organizations that offers special Christmas Season events for tourists and local residents. The facilities have quite a thorough rendering of an old-time Appalachian Christmas, complete with the Christmas Tree decorated in popcorn and paper chains, fruits, and other natural ornaments that my parents knew.

For instance, it was often a tradition to sew homemade hard candies into small packets of muslin to hang on the tree and distribute on Christmas Day. Hand blown glass ornaments were also used, as well as small quilted ornaments and even newly-knitted mittens.

A stocking hung above the fireplace on the mantel was often just a child's largest daily-wear sock, but socks or hand sewn Christmas stockings were filled with oranges, an apple (Johnny Appleseed passed through Ohio), nuts to crack, and rich-ingredient homemade treats. Family and friends might go ice skating on a farm's frozen pond, from where ice was also harvested and placed in the ice house for home use and for sale.

A blue spruce in an outdoor display.
A blue spruce in an outdoor display. | Source

What Kind of Tree?

From at least as far back as the early 1700s in one branch of the Eastern Ohio family tree (traced to the Tyrrells of Virginia), live evergreen trees with root balls were used for Christmas d├ęcor.

After Christmas and on through New Year's - even through 12th Night celebrations as long as they remained popular in Colonial America - the tree was removed from the house and planted on the land. My own father planted trees at least eight years in a row before he ran out of room at home on a 1/4 acre city residential plot with other trees, so he switched to artificial trees in the late 1960s for Christmas. I missed the pine and evergreen scents in the house.

The aluminum tree with a rotating color filter on a light operating on the floor to change colors on the tree was interesting and space-age, but the aluminum needles wore out and became ragged after a couple of years. The Appalachian ways seemed better.

The non-Native American portion of my mother's side of the family always had Christmas trees, because at least one ancestor was German and he brought the tradition of the tree with him from his home country. In addition to the various components of family traditions, both parents attended one-room schools that also used Christmas Trees and taught the children natural crafts for making ornaments. Some of these ornaments included pine cones fallen from the trees, collected from the ground and rehung on branches indoors.

Apalachian Region of America: NY to Mississippi

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At the Top of the Tree

A variety of objects might be placed at the top of an Appalachian Christmas tree, at least in Ohio and each year was different in my house. My mother favored a Santa Claus doll. My father would sometimes use what his own mother preferred - the Star of Bethlehem. Other Appalachian trees I have seen have been adorned at the top with an angel or with a large country church ornament.

Christmas Tree Varieties

Historically, Ohioans in Appalachia were fortunate to be able to dig evergreen trees from their own farms and forested lands for use at Christmas.If they had none, neighboring farms would often let those families come over and choose a tree, perhaps in exchange for some baked goods and canned jams and jellies.

Some Ohioans undoubtedly still hold these traditions, but the big tree farms that have become a kind of amusement park as well as a Christmas tree outlet have made it attractive to go and purchase a cut tree while the kids in the family enjoy the rides and treats.

One farm located in Southern Ohio operates a Christmas Express on December weekend evenings that includes a real train ride, hot chocolate on board (remember Tom Hanks's Polar Express film), and traditional ice skating at the end of the line. A hundred years ago, Southern Ohio families took the train to visit relatives at Christmastime and to see the gorgeous hills and trees covered and snow. These train rides today bring back those opportunities.

Appalachian states often run train excursions in the summer as well as during Christmas.
Appalachian states often run train excursions in the summer as well as during Christmas. | Source

Best Appalachian Christmas Trees

What kind of Christmas trees do we grow in Ohio? Several kinds thrive here and I recall in elementary school when we kids helped a small local tree farm by purchasing "stock certificates" for a nickle or a dime. Our school was two blocks from the tree farm's Oakland Nursery, where children and teachers purchased a Christmas tree for each classroom every year.

Today, Oakland Nursery operates several large outlets in two counties and runs a Christmas Trolley to celebrate 1940, when they opened their first store near my school. They always offer some natural decorations for the trees and many made in Ohio

Varieties of Christmas Trees grown in Ohio that we use most often are

  • Spruces - Norway, White, Blue, and Colorado Spruces; and
  • Pines - Eastern White and Scotch Pines.

Regional Carols at Christmas

Some Appalachian Christmas Carols to Enjoy

Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head - An Appalachian Carol; Sung by Pat Carter, age 17 in 1964

Three Appalachian Carols: The Cherry Tree Carol / Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head / I Wonder as I Wander (United States)
Three Appalachian Carols: The Cherry Tree Carol / Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head / I Wonder as I Wander (United States)

United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants. "I Wonder As I Wander" is one of my favorite carols, one I never heard until I visited an Appalachian church.

 

The Cherry Tree Carol - Sung by Sting, 2009

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Comments 9 comments

Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

Oh I love your videos.. My family comes from Cherokee NC.. right across the highway from Dolly wood... My favorite place to go for Christmas.. this is a great HUB...I VOTED UP AND AWESOME...


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Cherokee, NC! - I love that place; so beautiful and people friendly. I got my first archery set there a million years ago, handmade bow produced by a local Native American group. What memories!


chspublish profile image

chspublish 4 years ago from Ireland

Love the carols. Something very different for me to enjoy and follow. A real treat for this time of year. There's nothing like the regional or the traditional to make things really special. Thanks for the treat.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Patty, a very interesting and informative hub, i did not know anything about the Appalachian Region or Appalachian Christmas and now i do. I enjoyed reading your beautifully written hub ! Loved the videos !

Vote up !!!


femmeflashpoint 4 years ago

Patty,

You've gone and done it again and inspired me to be homesick, lol.

I was smiling when I read the part about your dad planting the Christmas trees. My family generally used cut trees, but when it was removed it was taken to one of the ponds near our property and floated away from the bank to make nesting for baby fish.

Appalachian Christmases are fantastic. I wish everyone could enjoy the experience at least once. :)

Beautiful hub.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

kashmir56 - Christmas train rids through the hills in southeastern Ohio are a real treat in the now at Christmastime.

femme - I just learned from a garden store manager at a Cincinnati Lowe's store that at the end of the season, that's what they do with leftover cut trees, too! Merry Christmas!


femmeflashpoint 4 years ago

Patty,

I was born right across the river from Cinci, in Fort Thomas. :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Amazing! I enjoy visiting the tri-state area around Cincinnati - lots to see.


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

This is really cool ..Thanks a lot

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