Residence: Carlisle, MA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/19/2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French
Informant Bio: Informant is my mother. She was born in West Virginia and spent her childhood moving around the country, eventually settling in Massachusetts. She was exposed to many different traditions as she moved around the country as a child and still carries some with her to this day.
Context: I was interviewing my mother about traditions, stories and rituals she remembers from her childhood.
Item: “Our family was spread out across the US and Christmas was the one time that everybody went back home to be together, back in the Kentucky hills. As a child I loved being with my many cousins. It was a fantastic time. We generally stayed with my paternal grandparents. My grandmother woke up early Christmas morning and started preparations for the large Christmas breakfast. Always consisting of biscuits, gravy, fried potatoes, eggs, sausage, fried apples and for the kids, my favorite – hot molasses and peanut butter sopped up with a biscuit! After breakfast, the children opened presents. Then my grandmother began the Christmas dinner. They had a huge table; yet, the kids ate in the kitchen. Actually, you were allowed to eat at the grown up table after you turned 13. It was sad for me, when my older cousins left the kitchen table! Dinner was incredibly good. My grandmother and mom were terrific cooks. After dinner in the afternoon, the kids got to play with the toys. Then we began visiting other families in the community”.
Analysis: The Christmas breakfast was the first moment that all of the family members got to be together for; it was a celebration of the family being back together again. The informant remembered the food the most vividly, maybe because the meals proved to be the most memorable times (when everyone was gathered around tables seated next to each other).
The fact that the children had to sit at a separate table until they were thirteen shows how, in the U.S., society truly separates childhood from adulthood. With different schools, laws, and expectations, children do not get to have the privilege of a full life experience until they are old enough. Thirteen years old seems a little young for the transition when compared to the voting age of 18, drinking age of 21 and other “marking” periods that occur much later in ones life, but, thirteen does represent a time in which most people have at least begun to hit puberty (and thus moved on from being a true child).
Christmas seemed to be a period of time that was sacrosanct. Nobody missed it and it was a time when everyone came together. The children were the ones who exchanged gifts while the adults merely treasured it as a time to be around their loved ones and catch up. Despite the religious nature of the holiday, Church/religion does not seem to play a significant role in the informant’s celebration.