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
Linda Nightingale
Rudy Jackson
Eva LaRue
Oscar Levant
Sydney Greenstreet
Gerard Depardieu
Bill GoldbergJohannes Kepler
Louis Pasteur
Marlene Dietrich
Maryam d'Abo
Tovah Feldshuh
Heather O'Rourke
Cokie Roberts

Happy Birthday to us all!


  1. Mona Risk // December 21, 2010 at 1:08 PM  

    Toni, what a beautiful post. I love hearing about family traditions. My Dad too used to bring a morning coffee and cake to Mom in bed.


  2. Nightingale // December 21, 2010 at 1:52 PM  

    Reminds me of my Christmas Pasts. Oh sweet nostalgia. I like the way you put you and me at the top of the list of December 27 birthdays! We're in good company.

  3. Beth Trissel // December 21, 2010 at 9:33 PM  

    What a wonderful post. I love all these traditions and memories. I played the Christmas Gift game with my cousins and loved it. :)

  4. Mary Marvella // December 21, 2010 at 10:07 PM  

    Loved the post!
    My brother would sneak to see Santa's gifts, then take them to bed and go back to sleep until the rest of us awoke. He didn't wake up or bother to hide his tracks.

    Santa always left unopened gifts. My sister and I made enough noise to make sure my parents awoke!

    My daughter always knew to wait for her daddy, the photographer, to get his camera set up for pictures of everyone opening gifts. She actually waited!

  5. Judy // December 22, 2010 at 12:08 PM  

    Fun to know of the different Christmas customs! And Happy Birthday! One of my boy's birthdays is Dec. 21 and the other has his birthday January 1st. I always thing all you holiday birthday people should get a little extra something just because... Hope yours is special!

  6. Judy // December 22, 2010 at 12:09 PM  

    Oh, Linda! Happy Special Birthday to you, too!!!

  7. Mary Ricksen // December 22, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

    Your post so reminds me of my childhood. Though we all attacked at the same time. My father loved to do it right. The room looked picture perfect. He often had our house on the front of the Burlington Newspaper with his perfect, diverse, and tasteful decorations. We had cars come to look at our house and so the neighbors joined in. Then it became a competition to be the house on the front page of the paper annually. My father nailed it most every year we lived there!
    Happy Holiday's and I hate my December 25th birthday, so I do know what you mean!
    Happy Birthday Toni, Linda and all the other famous people on that list!