Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Christmas Traditions in the South by Abagail Eldan

My family has deep farming roots. Almost all of my ancestors farmed the land and were not among the rich. Tracing my family roots, I've discovered most of my ancestors immigrated from England in the 1600s. From there, my family line moved into North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and finally settled in South Alabama.

In the early days of settlement in Alabama, Christmas traditions were much different, including the shooting of guns and visits to neighbors demanding Christmas Eve gifts, specifically the sharing of alcoholic beverages. Those who may never have imbibed the rest of the year did not think it amiss to enjoy a nip on Christmas Eve (and many partook of more than a nip). 

This tradition comes from wassailing, a tradition many of us are only familiar with due to this song:
Here we come a-Wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering,
So fairly to be seen.
Here we come a wandering
So fairly to be seen.
Love and joy come to you
And to you a Wassail too
God bless you and send you,
A Happy New Year
God send you a Happy New Year.
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we're the neighbours' children,
That you have seen before.
We're the neighbours' children
That you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you a Wassail too,
God bless you and send you,
A Happy New Year,
God send you a Happy New Year.

There are other verses to the song and this next part gives us an idea of where the Christmas Eve gift tradition derived:
I have a little purse
It's made of leather skin.
I need a silver sixpence,
To line it well within.
I need a silver sixpence,
To line it well within.

In England, the commoners often gathered at the homes of the nobility to ask for money on Christmas Eve. 
In parts of England (such as Somerset and Sussex) where apples are grown, especially for cider, Wassailing still takes place on Twelfth Night (or sometimes New Year's Eve or even Christmas Eve). People go into apple orchards and then sing songs, make loud noises and dance around to scare of any evil spirits and also to 'wake up' the trees so they will give a good crop!

It's also common to place toast which has been soaked in beer into the bows of the trees to feed and thank the trees for giving apples. That's where the term to 'toast' someone with a drink comes from!

This, then, is where the traditions of the South had its roots, in pagan tradition. The drinking and revelry (shooting of the guns) were intended to wake up the trees in order to produce good crops. Of course, by the time this was happening in the Deep South, the origins had been forgotten. Even today, Alabama ranks number one in the sale of fireworks for the Christmas Season. We're still "waking up" the plants to produce good crops! 

The asking for a Christmas Eve gift has mostly gone by the wayside. In the early years of the settlement of Alabama, almost all folks were poor. The tradition developed of filling pockets with treats of nuts and small candies. When neighbors and families met one another on Christmas Eve, the first person to say "Christmas Eve gift!" would have to be given one of the other person's treats. 

And speaking of treats, I have a new book up for pre-order, Brokken Promises.

It's due out on December 17th so be watching for that!
Merry Christmas!

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