Christmas in Rural Tennessee

Christmas in Rural Tennessee:

ME: All right, what can you tell me about what you did regularly for Christmas while you were growing up?

M.H.: Well, we were very poor, each one of us in our home, we had a chair that was just the right size for how big we were. So on Christmas morning, when we would get up, well I should say we would bring in a cedar tree and decorate it, and make homemade decorations like a paper chain, and stars, and stuff like that, because we didn’t have electricity. So, no Christmas lights, only from the fireplace. And then on Christmas morning our chairs would be around the fireplace, and of course, we didn’t have a lot of presents and anything like that, but we would always get something we wouldn’t normally get, like a banana, or an orange, or some kind of Brazil nuts.

ME: Something that would be considered a luxury.

M.H.: Very. It was something we didn’t have, we didn’t raise on the farm, because normally we didn’t go shopping. We would trade with the peddler for the meal what we really needed. But Christmas morning we would get up, and here we’d always have a candy cane, and basically, that was all we got for Christmas. But it was nice, because we were getting something we hadn’t had before.

ME: Very nice! What kind of food would your family prepare for Christmas? What was it like to gather around the table? Was it just your family, or did you have friends and other relatives over?

M.H.: With six children in the family, and our home was so small, we didn’t have room for anymore people. Normally relatives would come over in the summer, when it was warm outside. But during Christmas time, my mother told me if I gave her oranges, she would make an orange cake. And so we did that, but she always had, uh, maybe a ham for Christmas, that we did not normally have every day. I could not remember having beef, when I was young, because we did not go into town often, and it was expensive. I think I was probably around fourteen before I had my first hamburger that I could remember, but we would have plenty of dried foods like nuts, like peanuts, and walnuts, and that’s basically what food was like where I lived, because that’s what was grown. We would also have, uh, rabbits and squirrel, and that was the game, deer was very rare.

ME: Back then, there were no pesticides? So, there were no toxins sprayed into the environment, so it was OK to have squirrels?

M.H.: Well, squirrels were very rare, but in the winter time when we needed meat or protein of some kind, my mother would go out with a rifle, and she would then make squirrel stew.

ME: And was that a normal part of your Christmas dinner, too?

M.H.: Uh, no.

ME: And rabbits? What about beef, or pork?

M.H.: For pork, we practically had pork all the time for Christmas; smoked ham. And we had fish because we lived on the banks of the river, and chicken, and that was about it.

ME: And also about Christmas, that was Christmas Eve you were describing?

M.H.: No that was always Christmas Morning. Christmas Eve, we would hurry up and go to bed, because Santa Claus was coming.

ME: Then Santa Claus was for a long time a part of growing up for you?

M.H.: Yes, yes.

ME: OK, thank you.


The holiday of Christmas, as described by M.H., was heavily shaped by her rural background, as well as the bleak financial circumstances of the Great Depression. M.H. and her family rarely ate meat, due to expenses, although on Christmas, pork was often eaten. She also mentions that she held the familiar belief in Santa Claus, throughout her childhood. I live in luxury, compared to what M.H. had to endure, although she comes across as having been content, as though it was all that was familiar to her. There is one thing that we both hold in common however, and that is the ritual concerning Santa Claus, making an appearance and bearing gifts in the night, to be opened the next morning.