In spite of being transplanted to faraway places, I still consider myself a Southerner, and I still celebrate Southern Christmas customs wherever I may be. I’d like to talk about three special Southern customs observed during Christmas. One appears in my family alone; the others used to be carried out throughout the state.
Back in the Olden Days when there were many children and little money, each child would get a pair of shoes for Christmas. Generally, these had to last until summer, at which time, bare feet were the stated fashion. Then, come fall and with colder weather, another pair of shoes were in order. The shoe box was saved and placed on the hearth before the fireplace where Santa, dear old chap, would remove the lid, fill it with small gifts, such as socks, handkerchiefs, candy, metal cars, and perhaps a small doll, replace the lid and go on his merry way. Naughty children got a box filled with coal. If I’d been alive back then, I’m certain I would have amassed enough coal to keep myself warm for many winters but—Lucky me!—I wasn’t born until decades later when this custom had going out of style because people were making more money and buying their kids Ataris and Transformers and ponies.
The other custom dates back to before the War of Northern Aggression and now exists only in any family which has an older Southerner in its midst: Shouting the Christmas Gift. This consists of seeing who can get to the Christmas tree first on Christmas morning—without being seen. It was more fun, of course, when the bedrooms were upstairs and everyone had to creep—ever so quietly—down the stairs, trying not to wake everyone else. Generally, they all caught up to each other on the landing at the same time. The first one to yell “Christmas Gift!’ thus beating everyone else to the punch, got to open his gifts first while all the others impatiently waited their turns. My family no longer practices this custom, although when phone calls are made, instead of “Hello” we answer with “Christmas Gift!” because who else would be calling on Christmas Morn but another family member?
The third custom is one that, as far as I know, only my family observed. Every Christmas morning, my father would get up before everyone else and disappear into the kitchen where, for the next twenty minutes, he would work as hard as a pastry chef on concocting an egg nog for Mother. Made with real whipping cream, real eggs, and a healthy slug of Jack Daniels whiskey. No cinnamon or nutmeg, please! Pouring it into a wine glass, he’d cut a slice of fruit cake, place both on a tray and carry it to the bedroom where he would offer it to Mother who was just waking. Once she ate the fruitcake and drank nog, she would get out of bed and it was officially Christmas Day. Then and only then, could we open our gifts.I get nostalgic thinking of these customs, and perhaps a little sad that they are no longer around.
However, there's something that rates high on my list during Yuletide and that is my birthday, so when you raise those glasses in a Christmas toast, think of me and all the people who share December 27 as a birthday, and toast us, also!
Toni V. Sweeney
Bill GoldbergJohannes Kepler