Christmas in the Holler

To a great extent, Christmas is Christmas everywhere. Routines, traditions…most of them vary, but only by degrees. Different regions have different customs, and families within those regions make their own habits within those customs. Somehow, someway, though, there are always presents and lots and lots of food.

Appalachian Christmases tend to be throwbacks to simpler times. Relatives gather at the family homeplace, people eat until they waddle, and opening gifts is the high point of the day. If kids are involved, Christmas morning is the big deal. For adults, it’s Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas night–and sometimes both. It’s basically a two-day bonanza of home-cooked goodness and gift wrap.

One cool feature of my recent Christmases is that they’re celebrated in the “Holler.” For those who don’t know, “holler” is Appalachian slang for a valley between mountains, usually where families have settled. I took the following photos tonight as I rolled into the Bandy/Sparks Holler. Every house you see belongs to a Sparks family member, most of whom descended from the Bandy clan several generations ago. There are no strangers here. The unpaved road is maintained by the county, but it dead-ends at the driveway of the last house. The Sparks are Christian folk, friendly and loving. One holler over, the same might not be true for whatever family settled there.

Take a look at all these family homes and imagine they’re inhabited by pillheads who may or may not have a meth lab in the basement. Then imagine being a tourist and getting lost, and ending up down one of these little back roads. This is why you don’t go joyriding in Central Appalachia without a native tour guide.You’d survive a wrong turn down the Bandy/Sparks Holler. You might even get fed a hot meal and get to hear some authentic Appalachian pickin’ if you catch Bill and Ronnie in the right mood with their guitars. But mess up and find yourself surrounded by the wrong bunch in a bad mood and you don’t have cell service–let’s just put it this way: if you’re ever in Central Appalachia, stick to the main roads.This isn’t the place for hikers and bikers and adventuresome travelers to get curious about where the road leads.


On a lighter note, when I got there this afternoon, I arrived to the raw sound of axe on wood. I looked up the hill in the photo below and saw Moose out splitting logs for his heater. He threw up a hand and waved. To the left of the woodpile is an ancient root cellar, built into the side of the hill for preserving perishables. Lots of history on that land, including an old road that leads over the mountain to the family’s original homestead and a cemetery from bygone times.

Dinner today was a small affair compared to the smorgasbord we had last night. In the Bandy/Sparks/Kay clan, Christmas Eve is when all the inlaws and outlaws and cousins and aunts and uncles and all the strays who have nowhere else to go congregate for Christmas on a grand scale. It’s standing-room only in MawMaw Spark’s old house on the hill. I didn’t get a photo of the food last night, even though I ate my share of it. Tonight I snapped a quick pic before the Kays descended on the meal Loretta so skillfully prepared.

For those unfamiliar with down-home American country cooking, let me identify some of what you see in this informal but scrumptious spread. Back row, left to right: sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, ham, and biscuits with cornbread underneath. Nearest row: beans, kraut and sausage (kraut is homegrown and homemade,) deviled eggs, gravy for the biscuits, potato salad, and in the front right corner, veggie bars. Dessert was homemade cheesecake. YUM

Thanks to some kriyas I’ve been doing recently, for the first time in years I was able to sit cross-legged on the floor and open presents the way I always enjoyed. Pictured below is my haul, the gifts I got tonight. Lots of textiles to keep me warm and other assorted neat things to use at home.

I’m sure the following scene is familiar to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas–the pile of wrapping paper in the floor. LOL It grew and grew as the night went on. Yes, the original photo includes their heads. I cropped the pic as a courtesy.

Here we have the yearly prank gift from Moose to Loretta. Seems like they get funnier and funnier as time goes by. Loafers! Real, true loafers, in the most literal sense. I got quite a laugh out of this.

And no Christmas would be complete without Paige, my beloved biter-of-children and killer-of-rodents. Paige is her own person, but she is wholly devoted to me and can’t tolerate being separated from me for any length of time. It isn’t herself she fears for. It’s me, although I’ve yet to figure out what exactly she thinks will happen to me in her absence. It’s kinda nice to be worried about, though, so I roll with it. And Paige goes along everywhere I can possibly take her. She and I are working on service dog qualifications, although she still isn’t quite sure she wants to perform on command. She already meets requirements for ESA (emotional support animal,) but those aren’t allowed public access to the degree that actual service dogs are. Time will tell if she makes the cut. I hope so, because leaving her behind is torture for both of us.

That was my Appalachian Christmas. Feel free to respond in the comments with photos of your own! I’d love to see them.