10 Perfectly-Lovely Southern Traditions That I Will Never Understand
To an outsider, the southern way of life and traditions are strange. Very strange. I have to agree and I am a southerner and have lived in the south since my birth, Nov. 27, 1953. I have, over the years, saw things change and some things almost change, but at the last moment, choose to stay the same as it always was.
Let me be really honest with you. If you really have a burning-need to understand the southern lifestyle, you have to be born “in” the south to start learning the southern life and traditions from birth up. That is the only sure way that you can gain the valuable knowledge that I think every American deserves. Outsiders find it rough to learn how “we” live and do things down heah!
I will love the south 'til the day I pass away
Liberal-minded people, (yes, thank God for their Freedom of Speech), can say what they please about “us” down here in the south, but it will not change me or my mind. I love the south. Odds being what they are, I will die in the south, but to show the southland my respect, I will use one of “our terms,” to describe dying: “Pass away.” That does seem softer and easier to grasp.
I honestly do not know where most of the traditions we southerners enjoy really came from or the date we started observing them. All I know is that my family and I, along with our neighbors, simply “followed the crowds,” on “that” one Sunday in the year: the first Sunday in May, and as it is named: Decoration Day. And that tradition evolved into this fine tradition: The All-Day Singing, Decoration, and Dinner on The Ground. Sounds like an all-day affair and you are right. It is an all-day thing.
I can make an educated guess about where “this” all-day tradition came from. Someone, a southerner, thought to his or herself one day that their family and other families just needed “that” one Sunday out of 52 Sundays to get together with each other, attend worship, then gorge on the best food this side of Heaven, and show their deceased friends and family members the respect they needed by decorating their graves with pretty flowers and homemade floral wreaths.
Non-southerners, please watch
Sacred Harp: Just one of the southern traditions we enjoy
- Sacred Harp singing is a tradition of sacred choral music that originated in the American South of the United States. The name is derived from The Sacred Harp, a ubiquitous and historically important tunebook printed in shape notes.
- The tradition has its roots in a distinctive American style of music that developed over the period 1770 to 1820 from roots in New England, with a significant, related development under the influence of "revival" services around the 1840s. This music was included in, and became profoundly associated with, books using the shape note style of notation popular in America in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
- Sacred Harp music is performed a cappella (voice only, without instruments) and originated as Protestant Christian music.
All-day singings, decorations, dinner on the ground
And to round-out the day, after lunch, everyone who loved singing would gather back into the church house to have an entire afternoon of class singing or to listen to an up and coming country Gospel singer who would sing the encouraging hymns that had become a standard to most southern families.
By four or five o’clock everyone would be tired-out from the day’s activities, plus their youngsters would be irritable from the heat and not being able to nap, and they would cry to get to go home. All in all considered, it is no wonder that these time-tested traditions were established and are still around in many places today in the southland 2014.
Now as for these traditions, some I do not understand, but that fact will not stop me from sharing them with you.
BRINGING FOOD – to the home of a family where a loved one has passed away. I have always seen things for what they are. Death is death, dark, sad, and reason to shed tears. Food is good to eat and good for you. But us southerners somehow combined the two and there you had it. Bringing food to the family enduring a loss. I understand the Christianity of bringing food to relieve the cooks in the sad family from the burden of cooking for their comforters, but again, I have been in the homes of people grieving for someone who had passed away and they, along with visitors, ate, drank, and you could not tell what was really going on. It was explained to me this way: “Even people dealing with grief, need to eat.” Nuff’ said.
SITTING UP WITH THE DEAD—is another mysterious southern tradition. It is simple of design. Menfolk, mostly, volunteer to sit-up all night with the menfolk of a family suffering the loss of a family member. And that is it. The women would either keep coffee going or maybe offer a finger food or two, but as for the main part, men sat with men. I do not know the reason either. This was in the time when bodies were carried to the homes of their families to lie in state, not the funeral home, but still the question remains: Why sit up? If you look hard enough you can probably find an old wives’ tale or two telling about a body that “appeared to” (I use that phrase strongly), come back to life and it would be too much for the women to deal with, so the men were elected to sit and make sure things were kept in the natural order.
LOVE OFFERINGS—for individuals or singing groups who were asked by churches to sing for their annual all-day singing, decoration and dinner on the ground festivities started, I guess, when churches added singing to the decoration and group-eating. So if the church asked the singers to sing, why didn’t the church give the singers a gesture of love (in that day) such as: a chicken or two, some eggs or maybe a basket of beans. But in the 1950’s onward, the crowd who were inside the church building to hear the singers, were expected to give cash, check or change. And it has been that way ever since.
SCOLDING KIDS—for being kids, so to speak, in the graveyards. I have been there. I was a kid all full of life. And at every decoration I was taken to, I played with, and romped with kids my age and did some loud laughing and yelling as kids do, and suddenly got scolded. With all things being considered, the people in the graves were not complaining and before you get upset, I am just being truthful, but my dad, God bless him, he said what I doing was disrespectful, so I stopped. Then I noticed my mom and her friends standing near the cemetery laughing and talking up a storm, but my dad, well, he knew how to pick his battles.
WARDROBE CONSTRAINTS—were always in effect. Kids, I am talking about me, always had to wear “Sunday” pants, shirt, and shoes. Why? It was very hot in early May in my part of the country: rural northwest Alabama, so why couldn’t I just wear my worn overalls, no shirt, and be barefoot? I guess that because this was only a yearly-event, “I” had to follow my dad in suite by wearing starched pants, shirt and polished shoes. It was still hot.
WATCHING PRETTY GIRLS—was strictly-forbidden at any all-day singing, decoration, and dinner on the ground. I mean really? A guy 16-years of age, not with a girlfriend, could not watch the pretty girls who were also 16-years of age in their pretty decoration dresses walking by knowing that guys like myself were going to go nuts for them, but we males were told to “not lust for the girls, or go to hell.” Did they ever think that “Hell,” although a truism of scripture, is tough for a single 16-year old guy to handle?
DRINKING MEN—who the elders of the church knew for sure that they were “bending their elbows,” earlier that morning up in the graveyard were kept from going inside the church to hear the good Gospel music was a “burr” under my saddle for a long time. Aren’t these people the very ones who Jesus went to? Then, as I saw it, the guys, although never acted-up or showed-out, did take a drink of booze, were doing the Christians in the church a huge favor by “bringing the business to them” by wanting to come inside and listen to the good music. Not many Christians in this time ever saw it my way.
ELDERS EAT FIRST—in the home or at an all-day singing, decoration, and dinner on the ground. I understand this completely. It is about respect for our elders as The Bible teaches, but man, could some of these old folks “shovel it down,” while I watched all of the fried chicken and apple pie slowly disappear.
DECORATION HAIRCUT—was a personal tradition that I grew to hate. No matter if my hair was perfect, my dad, who knew how to cut hair, would demand that I sit down on the Saturday before the next morning decoration event and cut my hair “to the bone,” which to me was no different than my Navy SEAl haircut I wear today which is to the scalp. “Why?” I asked my dad every year. “So you’ll look decent,” he would answer every year. And that was that.
IF CUPID DID HELP ME—catch a few minutes with one of those pretty girls in a pretty summer dress and I was “making points,” why then did my folks always say it was time to head home?
It is a miracle of God that I lived through all of these “Christian” traditions.