A Merry Humble Mountain Christmas

I Chronicles 16:33-36...Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord, because he cometh to judge the earth. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever. And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord...King James Version.

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year where truth and love can set you free, as the fictitious character George Bailey of Bedford Falls discovered in, "It's a Wonderful Life." Like ole' George found out, the holidays can be trying for those who are burdened with heavy responsibilities, challenges or troubles.

Our innocence can fade a little more each year as time goes on and the reality of the natural world takes its toll. It causes us to question our personal life and our surroundings.

If you approach the Holiday Season with inner joy, faith and confidence, the Christmas season can be a wondrous experience. But if your heart is troubled and your expectations are unrealistic, you'll likely be in for a rough holiday season. How we end each holiday season is how we begin the approaching New Year. If we miss the mark we could lose a whole year and have to begin our growth again.

If you're feeling a little lost during this time of the year and are looking for where the true spirit of Christmas lies, look no further than the bright glowing eyes of a child, filled with the awe and mystery of the Christmas Holiday Season. Untainted by doubt, children still believe in the Christmas Miracle that so many of us adults have forgotten.

Over time, mankind has turned the gift of a Savior Child into a Santa Claus figure, due to the fact that much of mankind still doesn't completely comprehended the Gift of Love. Often longing for a fictitious Santa to fill their dreams and wishes, some look to others, never being able to truly fulfill their own desire, it's an insatiable demand. Allowing Christ into our heart, is how we tap into the true source of giving and receiving that makes us happy and fulfilled.

I believe in the Christmas Celebration. The buying and exchanging of gifts is good for our economy. We enjoy the act of giving and receiving and in the process material goods are gained. The only down fall to this concept is feeling pressured by a season that was meant to bring us joy, or feeling obligated beyond our practical means.

The Santa Claus character has taken the Savior Child's place with his warm friendly smile and generous symbolic offerings. Though the Savior Child came first, it's the original Saint Nick (Saint Nicolas of Myra) that's more often than not recognized for our present holiday celebration. It is comforting to know, that most children are wise enough to understand, that Christmas is baby Jesus' Birthday.

A child's natural innocent nature and their ability to totally suspend their imagination, makes Christmas day the most enjoyable part of the holiday for adults as well as children. It's from a child like mind of acceptance, that we all can reach into the supernatural state of Christmas and receive this gift of joy.

When you ask an adult, "What is your favorite Christmas memory? Most will relate to a story directly connected to a joyous childhood experience, something they enjoy sharing with others. Unfortunately for some there's not such a fond memory. For those it's a time they would rather forget, and it's best they do forget. Life isn't always fair, even though it wasn't originally designed to be that way.

Who is this Santa Claus figure and why do we hold onto him, knowing it's the Christ Child we should be celebrating. Personally I love Jesus and I appreciate the warmth Santa represents. Santa's true mission has been lost in the fabric of marketing even though he has historical significance in accentuating the life of Christ as he helped provide for the needs of those he touched in an often, difficult world.

"Here comes Santa Claus!"

Santa Claus...the Myth and Legend

He began as a Saint, evolving into a mythical character of supernatural abilities, yet his beginnings were that of heroism and admiration.

Saint Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Bari, Nicholas of Myra lived during the 4th century after the death of Christ. It is believed he was born in the ancient seaport city of Patara and traveled to Palestine and Egypt during his youth.

Saint Nicholas was considered a very popular saint of the Eastern and Western churches, becoming bishop of Myra after returning to Lycia in Asia Minor. Like many other saints who crossed the old pagan line, he was imprisoned during the Roman emperor Diocletiona's persecution of the Christian movement. Fortunately, Saint Nicholas was released from prison during the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great, attending the new order's first Council of Nicaea in the year 325 A.D.

The earliest account of the legendary miracles of Saint Nicholas is found in a 6th century Greek text concerning three officers who were condemned to death. The legend tells that Nicolas appeared in a dream to Emperor Constantine, appealing to the emperor for the three men's release.

It is also believed that Nicholas of Sion recorded Saint Nicholas biography during the 6th century, accounting his many miracles with the most popular being those of children and sailors he saved from sure tragedy. His fame has flourished throughout parts of Asia Minor, Europe and Russia, crediting his name to numerous places, locations and churches, his miracles have also inspired liturgical plays and medieval artist.

Saint Nicholas popularized the traditional feast day of December 6, which was the ceremonial occasion of the Boy Bishop, a European custom where a young boy was elected, reigning from December 6, to Holy Innocents Day, December 28. This all happened prior to our current traditionally created Christmas Holiday of December 25, which figuratively coincides with the winter solstice, when light begins to overtake darkness once again.

Traveling during the late days of December would have been difficult on people journeying to a census audit that was require during the year of Jesus birth.

To understand more about the controversy concerning Christmas and the winter solstice check out the Blue Ridge Highlander's previous Christmas story, Winter Solitude.

Santa ClausSomewhere along the line of history, legendary Saint Nicholas was transformed into Father Christmas or Father January moving his popular December 6, feast day to the widely excepted Christmas Day or New Year's Eve by the people of Germany. From Germany this new tradition spread throughout countries where the Reformed churches were most popular before reaching France.

It was the Dutch Protestant who settled in what was originally called New Amsterdam, which we know today as New York City that changed the face of Saint Nicholas into the ever-popular Santa Claus. The Dutch name Saint Nicholas is pronounced Sinter Claes, which in English is translated into the name Santa Claus. Due to Saint Nicholas's ability to perform miracles the Santa Claus character became a supernatural being able to leap continents in a single bound with the help of eight tiny reindeers evolving into the highly commercialized character, those who celebrate the Christmas Holiday have grown to except.

From a manger in Bethlehem to a jolly rotund man in a red suit, who claims to live at the North Pole, he is either quite a leap in faith or a total corruption of fact.

It is a personal choice whether you believe this transformation from the Christ Child to our present day holiday tradition is a good or bad thing. Both were intended to ring out a true message of peace on earth good will to all and should be encased with genuine love.

The Essence of Christmas

This year the Blue Ridge Highlander is delving into the essence of Christmas as we look into the past as well as the present to see what mankind has gained and what has been lost. The mystery lies deep within the soul from the choices made regarding the season.

Our journey begins with the innocence and memories of childhood as we dedicate this year's holiday tale to the Christmas child that resides within, both young and old. We chose the regional Appalachian country of the southeastern United States to tell our tale.

In order to grasp accurate traditional holiday events involving mountain folks we first turn to our friends at Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center for that, "old time Christmas celebration." Mrs. Highlander contacted Ann Moore, in hopes that the students of Foxfire had chronicled those historical holiday times. Ann provided us with a wonderful book entitled, "A Foxfire Christmas" full of tales, traditions, decorations, instructions on making hand made toys and some of those, "Mmm! Mmm! Good," family recipes.

Reading "A Foxfire Christmas" was both amusing and informative, bringing back memories of special occasions when my own childhood family would visit both sets of grandparents in the rural coal mining country of Kentucky during the mid-1950's thru the mid-1960's.

"My Old Kentucky Home Christmas"

About once every three years my family would head south from Chicago along highway 41. Weather was sometimes troubling along the way until we left the Snow Belt behind, and encountered the Mason Dixon line just up ahead. My sister Becky and I were allowed to take only one pre-wrapped present with us due to limited space in the car. I was always torn when it came to which present to choose not knowing what was contained behind the festive wrapped package. A lot of shaking and guessing went on before I made my final choice. We would be gone for a about a week and those other mystery presents would just have to wait for our personal post Christmas celebration.

One gift had to carry me all the way there and back, my sister and I couldn't count on any extra presents. My grandparents couldn't afford gifts for one grandchild, much less the numerous grandchildren they had. What they did have to offer was a warm cozy home, great meals and plenty of hugs and kisses which made our trip so special.

Though I loved my grandparents equally, it was my mom's family that was overall the most fun, and the poorest to boot. They lived in four room country house beyond the skirts of town in a world all their own. The roof was silver colored heavy tin and the house was sided in a rough tarpaper siding.

There was one cold-water faucet at the kitchen sink and water was heated on the potbelly wood stove next to the sink. The wood stove heated both the kitchen and my grandparents' bedroom, which held two full, and one twin bed. A back-to-back coal fireplace heated the living room and adjacent bedroom, and yes there was no indoor bathroom, and yes it was cold out in the outhouse.

On Christmas Eve day my uncle Joe, (one of ten children) would go into the backwoods and retrieve a modest size tree for the small living room. There was no store-bought decorations or water filled tree stand to support the tree, it was supported by a nail and two flat boards.

After the tree was propped up, my sister who was two years my senior and my mom's youngest sister who was two years older than my sister would start making homemade ornaments out of tin foil cut-outs. Pictures from magazines would be cutout and hung on the tree along with popcorn strung with cranberries, if there was any available. There might have been an old family star at the top of the tree, but I really don't remember. I was more of an observer than a participant. It was likely that I got more in the way than was helpful, so my sister and aunt would tell on me and I would be sent outside to pester my uncles or play by myself.

After the tree was decorated, I would be allowed back in house to critique the humble tree and decorations. It sure didn't look like the tree back in Chicago, but all I really cared about was where they put my present so I could shake it some more, hoping to deteriorate the paper wrapping exposing yet another clue as to the mystery gift.

I believed in Santa but knew gifts came from mom and dad. We didn't have a chimney in our Chicago apartment so the Santa and magical gift thing didn't work for me, but I played along anyway because I've always had quite a vivid imagination.

Members of mom's family who could make the trip or who lived nearby would arrive all day, travelers spent the night while the locals returned home. By Christmas Eve night, everyone would be in either the living room or kitchen eating, snacking on sweets, telling personal stories or poking fun at one another. Some of the stories were amusing, some not so; some of the joking was funny, some not so, yet it didn't matter, it was Christmas and we were all excited about being there.

Neither of my two sets of grandparents allowed distilled spirits in the house. Although, what some of my uncles were sippin' out in the smokehouse, wasn't disclosed to the rest of the family.

Before midnight uncle Joe would refill and stoke-up the coal embers in the fireplace as the ladies made ready the beds. My personal Christmas Eve duty was to shake that present a few more times before mom hurried me off to bed.

My sister would crawl into bed with the younger aunt and they would put me in bed between two of my uncles under a stack of quilts, not fancy quilts, they were more like quilted moving pads. Those stacks of quilts were so heavy my small adolescent frame was trapped in one position and I felt no relief until one or both of mom's younger brothers would roll over onto their sides, relieving the pressure so I could get comfortable.

In the cramped living room, two foldout couches held two sets of parents, while the adjacent bedroom that I was in held three full beds. My grandparent's bedroom had two full beds and one twin. Other grandchildren, no matter how many there were, would be spread around the house wherever they could fit-in on a pallet.

Bedtime didn't stop the festivities though, the laughing and joking kept the rafters rocking while everyone who laid in bed kept up their part of the conversation for at least another half hour or more while the bright red embers from the fireplace offered what little light there was in the house.

The television's version of the Walton Family, were nothing but a bunch of lightweights compared to this group as the final good nights filter around the house and silence brought peace and quiet to this country Christmas Eve.

As I laid there in the stillness, I would imagine the whereabouts of Old Saint Nick cutting across the sky in his sled drawn by eight tiny reindeers. I didn't concern myself with who bought the gifts, my childish mind just loved the Santa image and before long the beauty of the song Silent Night would fill my head as the image of Baby Jesus in the manger would take over just before I dozed off.

In the morning I would jump out of bed, but only after someone would help me out from under that big stack of quilts. By now my patience had expired as I begged my mom to let me tear into that one long awaited gift. My pleading took all of about 30-seconds before my mom gave me the official, "go ahead and Merry Christmas." No holiday tradition filled with pomp and circumstance could stand in the way of that package and me. Like always, my obsession and intuition for selecting the right present always paid off and I would wear that one and only toy to the bone.

Every year, my dad would tell the same story to me about his growing up poor, how his family could never afford any gifts and how one of his favorite great uncles would show up each Christmas with a bag of fruit, nuts and a little candy for all the kids, and how excited they were to see him when he arrived.

My mother's story was the same, yet it involved a generous aunt. Not once in my dad or my mom's young life, did they receive any kind of toy for Christmas. I believe their pretending that there was a Santa for my sister and I was something they as adults were proud to offer their children. It was something they never had. I'm sure my dad told me this story every year to keep my sister Becky and I humble and appreciative.

The next event on Christmas Day at my grandparents was for grandma Bertha and some of her visiting daughters, daughter-in-laws and older granddaughters, to prepare that wonderful home-cooked holiday meal.

My favorite part of the meal, were the pecan pies, cornmeal pies and blackberry-jam cakes. The fellowship we had with our extended family that day would stretched into night before sleep overtook that little country house once more. Poverty may not add up to much, yet those times and memories I personally consider priceless.

The next day after Christmas, uncle Joe would take the tree from its sacred spot in the living room, decorations and all and pitched it into the burn pile outback of the house. Christmas Eve and Day were over and New Year's Day meant nothing more to our family beyond hanging up a new free calendar the local drug store or soda fountain gave out each year.

A few days later my sister and I would be back home in Chicago, enjoying opening the rest of our Christmas gifts with no great fanfare. Five hundred miles to the south lay the greater family joy we got to experience once every three years.

This Christmas memory, and the retelling of those days that I have now recorded here, will probably be the first time my own Chicago born and suburban raised daughter I call lovingly, Highlander Jr. heard of my country Christmas experiences as an adolescent. Mainly due to the fact that our current family life was so different than those olden days, plus I just never really brought the subject up to her in detail. Just like my dad's and mom's memory of their childhood Christmas, I believe she will want to pass mine and her mother's memories of our childhood Christmas' onto our grandchildren and great-grand children.

No Christmas event stands out more to me during my youth than those days, until Mrs. Highlander and I began our own family holiday celebrations with our daughter as we created our own Christmas traditions.

Today in these modern country times, we are able to share with her and our wonderful granddaughter and son-in-law a new life, here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have come full circle and I wouldn't change a thing within my journey that brought me back home with Mrs. Highlander to our southern roots. Our story now continues with our visit to Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center.

A Foxfire Christmas

Knowing that Ann Moore, president of Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center had set aside a copy of, "A Foxfire Christmas...Appalachian Foxfire Christmas BookMemories and Traditions," for us, caused Mrs. Highlander and I to hurry over the mountain and into Rabun County to retrieve our copy from Marie at the Gift Shop. Marie told us the curator was expecting us and would be right back in a moment.

A whole moment didn't pass before an aging blue pickup truck, dragging some kind of homemade dirt road scraping contraption drove up with its driver's long arm with hand attached waving out the window to us.

Curator Robert Murray, Mrs. Highlander and I joyously greeted one another. Robert, the larger than life size Foxfire holiday elf, proudly took us up to the museum's Moore House where the antique mountain Christmas Toys were kept.

My mission; was to photograph these old relics in order to share then with our readers. While I photographed the handcrafted toys inside the cabin, Robert and Mrs. Highlander sat on the front porch discussing "the Christmas Miracle," exchanging stories and joking as I occasionally stepped out and interjected with some of my own past experiences.

We could have spent the rest of the day enjoying Robert's company, yet with the holiday season and limited time pressing us to complete this year's Blue Ridge Highlander Christmas Story, we fondly bid Robert farewell and a Merry Christmas before making our way back over the mountains.

I highly recommend, "A Foxfire Christmas," it was really enjoyable. The book is divided into many personal reflections of past mountain Christmas Holidays, black & white photographs and recipes. For a holiday treat, I recommend reading excerpts from the book each Christmas to children of all ages, it is a wonderful way to share these precious and humble memories of Christmas past.

Below are several excerpts from, "A Foxfire Christmas," plus photos of some of the old time Christmas toys and hand-fashioned ornaments. It's wonderful to hear their old Appalachian memories, and the country rhythm of their speech. Most of these souls have passed on, making Foxfire's Publication even the more valuable.


To know more about the Foxfire organization, check out the Blue Ridge Highlander special feature "Foxfire Southern Appalachian Heritage."

Fireplace Toys
Wooden Cabin and Toys
Walking Sticks and Sculptures
Woodsaw Plane
Wooden Horses Wagon
Wooden Stagecoach
Corn Husk Dolls
Wooden Guns and Chickens
Miniature Tools

AMY NICHOLS: I'll always remember those Christmas dinners; they were so special. It seems that Christmas was always memorable because we sat at our small table and thanked God for being able to spend another Christmas together.

Sometimes in the earlier years, Christmas was celebrated by a weeklong celebration of neighbors visiting their friends or relatives. Sorghum candy was made for candy pulling. Sometimes cakes were made for each day of the week before Christmas. Food has always played a part in the celebration of Christmas.

KELLY SHROPSHIRE: Their simple stockings dangle from the fireplace mantel, each heavy with the weight of three apples, two oranges, stick candy, and the traditional Brazil nut wedged in the toe. Santa Claus has been good to them this year. When these treasures have been found and the morning chores done, the children will spend their morning outside playing in the snow while their mother and father prepared for the traditional Christmas dinner. The salted pork that has been in the smokehouse since October will finally be brought, and the sorghum that was put up in the stoneware jars late last summer will come off the shelf to flavor the cakes for dessert.

SCOTT CANNON: Most of the people gathered mistletoe and holly and pine, they decorated their trees with chains made of homegrown popcorn, cranberries, and strips of paper cut from a Sears Roebuck catalog. How ingenious some families were in making unique decorations for the home and tree: pine cones wrapped in the foil from a cigarette package, tiny wooden crosses carved of wood, and sycamore balls dipped in flour and water to turn them white. I wonder if our Christmas would be as meaningful if we used again the homemade traditions that preceded the age of colored electric lights and tinsel.

ADDIE NORTON: My boys didn't have any toys or games, only something that they made. The last two had more than the first two because the older boys would get them things. They'd make them a wheel and get a little stick and put a piece across there and fool that thing in front of them. They'd get up on the hill and come down there just a-flying.

People this day and time, if they've got any children, they don't have but one or two anymore. People used to have seven of eight, you know, and up to twelve or thirteen. And they couldn't give them much. But this day and time people gives their children so much that they don't pay no attention to any of it. They kick a toy around, it's all over the house; it's kicked out in the yard; it's played with no time at all.

LAWTON BROOKS: Their was one man we wanted to play a trick on, so we just took his wagon apart while he was asleep, took one piece of it at a time up on the barn, and put it all together again up there. So the next morning this man got looking for his wagon, and it was sitting astraddle on the corner of the barn, all put together and ready to go again. He didn't know what to think! He was really mad when he found his wagon on top of the barn. He had to go up there and take it down one piece at a time. We didn't tell the old man how we had tricked him for a long time, but it tickled him later when he found out.

Folks didn't care, though. Everybody else done it. Just like trick or treat here now on Halloween. It was just on that same basis-everybody done it.

LESSIE CONNER: We have gotten gag gifts at the Christmas tree drawings sometimes. Minyard got a sandwich made out of a hog's nose. When they killed a hog to slaughter, they cut the old snout off and put it between two pieces of light bread and tied it with sea grass. They did! Had it all wrapped up and in a pretty box, and he opened it and there was that old hog snout!

ROBBIE BAILEY: Most of the people got the same things: oranges, apples, sticks of candy, chewing gum, and sometimes dolls for the girls and maybe a knife or slingshot for the boys. If you compare the gifts received today and the gifts back then, you have to say that people in this day and age have it lucky. Could you imagine children today waking up and finding an orange or an apple for their present? They would laugh in their parent's faces.

At the turn of the century (20th century,) however, things were different. Aunt Mo and Tommy Lee Norton: " We were crazy about Christmas. We didn't get that much, but nobody else did either. We always looked forward to Christmas, and we still do. Even though we didn't get anything (when we were little,) we looked forward to it."

LESSIE CONNER: If I had my time to go over, I'd never teach my children that there was a Santa Claus. It's not right. You're teaching your children something that's not right, for we know there's not a Santa Claus. I'd teach them that we brought their present. We should teach them to be honest and not give them gifts under false pretense.

We had nine children and my husband worked hard, and it was a hard time. My children would go over to our neighbors', and maybe some of them would have a nice presents, and they'd come back and say, "Mommy, ol' Santa Claus don't like us.

I said, "Why."

They'd tell me what the neighbors' children got from Santa Claus and they'd say, "He didn't bring us nothing pretty like that." And you know it hurts. That learnt me right then. I seen right where I'd made my mistake. You see, as you grow older, you can see back to your taillights, but you can't see your headlights. I believe in being honest with anybody. If you ever marry and raise children, don't ever teach them there's a Santa Claus. Tell them it's Christ's birthday, and they're supposed to give and get presents and love their neighbors.

ROBBIE BAILEY: Giving up the myth of Santa is one of the events in a child's life when he or she begins to cross the line into adulthood. The revelation is sometimes funny, like the case of Irene Galyou, who found out that Santa was her dad because she recognized the shoes he had on; sometimes its traumatic, like the time Janie P. Taylor found out Santa was being played by her dad at a school Christmas get-together. There are people, like Burma Patterson, who found out there wasn't a Santa Claus but still believe in him anyway.

MARGARET BULGIN: My father was one of the fortunate people during the Depression years-before my teen years. I don't mean we were wealthy or anything like that, but we did have a regular income. We knew the money was coming. He had a job as a fire warden in the district for the North Carolina Forest Service.

We had the same dolls-my sister and I-year after year, but Mother made new clothes for them at Christmas. Another thing that contributed to our Christmas was the fact that my mother had a sister who never married. She took it as her Christian duty to provide packages at Christmas for all her nieces and nephew. The first yo-yo I ever saw came in a package from Aunt Louise at Christmas. She always included clothes, dresses, scarves, gloves, and things like that, but there'd be some foolishness, too. And always peanut brittle. She always sent peanut brittle. But not everybody had an Aunt Louise, and we knew we were very fortunate to have her.

Course we didn't have any electric lights, so our Christmas trees didn't look like they do now. We were never allowed to use candles. They're just so tricky. And Father, being in the firefighting business, wasn't about to let us do that anyway.

Creative Christmas Joy

Gingerbread Village created by Children

Mrs. Highlander, our daughter Highlander Jr, our granddaughter Highlander Extra Jr and myself, attended a Christmas event designed for kids who enjoyed Christmas creativity. The Mountain Art Association, located in the mountain town of Hiawassee, in Towns County, Georgia, organized this holiday event.

Santa's Workshop for Children, as it was called, drew so many participants that it was nearly overflowing into the hallway of a local resort located in the nearby town of Young Harris. The local resort generously provided the space for the event and baked the gingerbread men.

There were, gingerbread houses, gingerbread men, ornaments, and card making projects going on at several of the large tables around the room.

Santa, Elf and Children

Santa Claus dropped by with his helper elf, while volunteers from the Mountain Art Association along with many of the attending parents, helped the children with art supplies and hands-on experience. During the two-hour event, earlier arrivals completed their projects in a timely manner while late arrivals filled in recently vacated spaces.

As I moved around the room, quietly observing and photographing the children, I was impressed with the focus and serious intent these children of various ages were applying to each project as the moved from table to table.

The children were so well behaved that I couldn't have been more impressed. There was one child who must have been under the age of two and hadn't yet discovered his inner creative self. He kept the adults in the room laughing as he made his way around the room eating all the edible arts supplies that he could grasp while his mother scurried along behind him, earnestly working towards consumption control. Towards the end of the event, mom was worn out, while sonny was still flying with gingerbread man particles all over his face.

As they were oblivious to my presence, I saw only a few smiling faces due to the children's serious focus on their projects. Yet, every time a parent pulled out a camera, it was like a commanded cue, with big bright eyes shining and big smiles covering their faces as they looked up toward their parents for that precious family photo moment. Then their eyes and hands returned to their personal project and it was back to business. Give a child something creative to do and it's amazing how well their behavior and energy adjusts.

The event was a great success and well organized, adding to these children a sense self-confidence and achievement through the joy of creativity. Nothing flashy, no big budget production, just a humble and fun way to enjoy the Holiday Season and the children along with their parents loved it. I believe this event will need even more room next year.

As we left Mrs. Highlander and I followed a mother and her young daughter out of the resort. The mother was smiling as young girl carrying one of her newly fashion ornaments was singing and skipping merrily along. Her mother looked at us grinning cheek to cheek as I said, "that's the spirit of Christmas that we should all have, just like when we were children."

A Mountain Folk School Christmas for Kids

John C. Campbell Christmas Event for Kids

The following weekend, Daddy Highlander (that's me,) and all the other Highlander family members headed on over to the John C. Campbell Folk School, located in the town of Brasstown in Cherokee County, North Carolina.

The annual holiday, John C. Campbell Kid's Party was off to a great start, billed to have singing, dancing, story telling and ornament making.

As soon as we arrived we were guided down to the craft room where craft supplies were laid out for ornament making. Once completed, the children and adults were led up to the great hall for the celebration.

The old fashion Christmas music was great, all performed by members of the Accordian Dance GameJohn C. Campbell extended family band. Volunteers helped move the festivities along as they began the celebration with musical chairs which was quite challenging with the number of children attending.

Next a solo accordion player took center floor while children and adults formed a huge circle. This circle of holiday fun filled souls played a game of follow the leader as the accordion player called out commands that were both fun and comical. They were up, they were down, and they were laughing all around.

Things got really hopping when the "Black Socks" Rapper Sword Dancers took to the floor, clicking their heels and toes to the melody of a fiddler dressed in Scottish attire. This was a real treat to behold; the climatic ending had us all out of breath just watching.

Stage two, same center floor, "Sticks in the Mud" Morris Dancers, move in and took over the room nearly filling the entire floor of the Keith House, dressed in their brightly colorful and comical attire. Like the precision of the previous "Black Socks" this group was highly charge in their comical and wonderfully entertaining dance routines, I loved the hats. They danced and spun across the floor forming circles and clanging their staffs (large walking sticks) to the rhythm of the band. This was a very exciting display and really had the audience clapping their hand and tapping their feet.

The Christmas program began to settle down when the sweet smile and gentle voice of story teller Lynday Hunicutt, stepped into the center of the room, calling all the children to sit down on the floor in the very heart of the great auditorium. Silence took over as she began weaving her favorite old holiday Christmas tale, using expressive speech, with large hand and arm gestures accompanied by sincere facial expressions as the children sat John-C-Campbell-Christmas-Duetquietly, captivated by her tale of a Christmas past, a small pine tree, and a father's desire to bring Christmas joy, to his ailing child, us big kids found the tale fascinating as well.

The storytelling was followed by a talented duet singing Christmas songs. My favorite chorus from the medley was..."Merry Christmas Y'all, Merry Christmas Y'all, I knew before he closed his mouth, Santa Claus was from the south."

The festive atmosphere of the auditorium was suddenly jolted when a blast from the big red Brasstown Fire Department truck arrived at the door with the guest of honor in tow. Jolly Old Santa enter the hall for his command performance and was mobbed by all the children before taking his honorary seat next to the oversized Christmas Tree that was decorated in traditional hand made ornaments. Children lined up to await their shot at the royal lap, telling their wishes to the man with the magical bag.

After the youngest finished adding more wear to his lap, they were handed an orange and a candy cane before making their way over to the refreshments table where homemade cookies where being served. Enjoying a few cookies myself, I have to say they were delicious, and some of the cookies were glutton free, good thinking. I'm not ashamed to admit, I might have been the first one at the table getting my holiday treat and back again before I left.

After the little one's had their turn upon Santa's lap, some of the big girls, much too old to believe in Santa took a turn on his lap for a photo opportunity. It was both adorable and rather shameful to say the least.

A joyous wave from his large hand filled black glove, and he was off, riding his red chariot into the horizon while the siren blared, shouting, "Merry Christmas...Merry Christmas."

Santa on a fire truck

This holiday event at the John C. Campbell Folk School went beyond our expectation and the love they gave reach beyond normal human compassion.

Arriving early at this holiday celebration, Mrs. Highlander and I were sadly informed that a young, beloved and dedicated life long member of the John C. Campbell Folk, John Neil John C. Campbell Christmas TreeDavidson moved on to a greater journey beyond the veil of our physical world only 2 days before the event. Had he have been present, he would have led the dance, filled with his genuine joyous enthusiasm and love for the folk school, his friends and dear family.

Smiles and courage covered the faces of the staff as they carried on with the program, even though their hearts were saddened. The joy and spirit in which they danced, played and performed far exceeded the natural realm.

Christmas cheer and affection charged the air of the auditorium in fond memory of the one they loved, now lifted up upon angel's wings.

Here this day, the Spirit of Christmas reached greater heights, in the name of love. We sacrifice a part of our hearts each time we lose someone so dear, as we try to comprehend the difficult lesson that love and sacrifice often walk hand in hand.

The Highlander family wishes to dedicate this special Holiday Christmas Feature to John Neil, his mother Nanette, father Jan Davidson, longtime director of the John C. Campbell Folk School and all that loved him.

Both the Mountain Art Association and the John C. Campbell kid's events were free to the public and filled with holiday love. Open to children of all ages and income levels, be they of wealth or modest means, the true Spirit of Christmas is giving. The price of humility is kindness.

The lesson learned from these two events as well as my own humble Appalachian Christmas is that the wealth of Christmas is in enjoying all that is offered freely; love, art, music, song, dance and family.

If you haven't already done so, take the time to create memorable holiday traditions of your own design. Bake cookies with your children, sing songs, string popcorn and cranberries, tell stories, tell them your favorite Christmas story while making simple ornaments that you will treasure for a lifetime.

Take advantage of events in your community such as the ones above and add joy to the holiday season to replace the stress of everyday life. Even a long life is short in the scope of things; don't waste another day without taking time to enjoy the holidays with love.

The Gift of Love

So where do we find this true gift of love, its humility and tender heartedness?

First, let's turned to the dictionary to see what its description of love is, as I quote.

1. A deep devotion or affection for another person or persons: love for one's children. 2. A strong carnal passion for another person. 3. Carnal passion in general or the gratification of it. 4. A very great interest in, or enjoyment of, something: also, the thing so enjoyed.

I can pretty much go along with the first one, it's that warm fuzzy feeling, yet vague in what true love really means. Numbers 2 & 3, I have a problem with, I love a lot of people, but not in a carnal way, too shallow of a meaning, that's mostly just lust. Number 4, you might say I love dessert, yet the problem with that love is, desserts don't love me. True love is unconditional, dessert just produces fat, that's not good love.

Since it is the Christmas Holiday, I prefer to turn to Biblical Scripture to examine the spiritual take on love and ask how would I know if I were applying love properly.

The one thing you most likely know is that these scripture writers are going to say is, "God is Love." What do they really mean by that, and if God is love, how do I know if I've got true love in my heart and not just a lust for something that fulfills the senses whether emotional of physical.

GALATIANS 5:22-23...But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Ok, that scripture has kind and thoughtful words in it, so how do I assure myself that I am applying them properly and not just taking them for granted

1 JOHN 4:7...Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 4:18...There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 5:5...Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

So, if I love Jesus, I'm there in the state of God's love. So how am I sure I've reached that state of love, it's easy to love Jesus especially at Christmas. The holiday celebration was meant to be all about love, I can do that, I think, but how do I know for sure if I've reached that state of true love, the actual meaning of the Christmas season.

1 JOHN 4: 19-21...We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

So, the love contained in 1 JOHN tells me true love is not only loving those close to me, but loving all those around me, even the ones who have wronged me or others, that's quite a tall order for me and most others, yet life isn't it all about me.

Since God is the fountainhead of love, why should I personally evolve to this true state of love. Why should I have to love my brother, good or bad? There's got to be a big pay off to this state of true love, or why should I go the distance, what good would it do for me to love those that wronged me. Self interest applies to self preservation, right? Wouldn't it be easier to love a little, and settle for what I can get? Why not just love those who love me and be done with it?

Scripture speaks very clearly here.

MARK 11: 24-26...Therefore I say unto you, What things so ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

So true love isn't just what comes easy, it's a huge sacrifice. True love forgives and sacrifices for the sake of others, not just a warm fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas time when you exchange presents. So why was the birth of Jesus, the author of love so important? Why was his mission the ultimate sacrifice?

JOHN 3:16...For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Committing yourself beyond self-gratification is the total complete act of love, unconditional love, non-self-fulfillment. Love is a gift.

In that case, is Santa Claus nothing more than a warm fuzzy feeling good intent with no real sacrifice, making him an unreal yet well meaning character? Like eating desserts it just leaves you hungry for more. Not a very fulfilling cycle and totally incomplete.

In the last century or so, the well meaning, hard worked holiday celebration focusing too much on Santa's giving has mostly turned His gift into an anticlimactic festival.

Christmas is an outstanding holiday, yet without the true state of love it was meant to have, we come up short and settle for less when we could have it all, and rightfully received.

So what is the conclusion of the thing called love? True love is selfless, innocence and sacrificial. Self-love is selfish demanding and conditional. Where does Santa fit into this equation? Right where he's supposed to, his fairy tale character was meant to be loving and selfless. Only improper belief and unrealistic demands on others to satisfy selfish wants has corrupted the spirit of St. Nick with improper and at time unrealistic expectations.

The birth of Jesus Christ began this Holiday movement and doesn't it figure commercialism and marketing took it from there. The sad thing is, that it's often what it takes for some Christians and other celebrators to focus on the two Holiest Day of the year. If that's so, then let the lights keep shinning and the true joy of Christmas carry on, somewhere in the confusion we hope the true meaning will emerge and we'll all discover what George Bailey learned, "It's a Wonderful Life."

It may not be the Lord's original heart felt intention that it go this way, but in these modern times it has kept the sacred birth alive while so many troubled souls might drift off and lose their way home.

The Spirit of Christmas is so supernaturally charged with love that it affects everyone during the holiday season. This supernatural "Spirit of Love" conquers all things if you know how to catch its headwinds with your sail and take it on the great ride of joy it was meant to be.

The problem with the power of love that lies within this holiday spirit is that you can either ride along into the greater reaches aboard this celestial ship of love, or get caught in the after burn if you dwell in a state of despair, discontent, discouragement, anger or selfishness.

The power of love is here for all, gifted by the sacred birth of a Savior. It's a personal choice as to whether you want to ride along engulfed in this spirit of love and peace, or stay on the outside, subjected to the chaos that has encompassed and imprisoned those who remain in fear, doubt and disbelief.

The best way to retrace your steps or continue in the celebration, is to search thru the original Christmas Story within the first four books of the New Testament. I found only two of the books contained original parts of the Nativity Story, both Matthew and Luke, books 1 & 3.

The Book of Mark, which is the second book of the New Testament opens with the Holy Spirit's anointing of Jesus as an adult during his encounter with his cousin John the Baptist, good testament yet we're focusing on Christmas and Baby Jesus. The book of John, book 4 begins with insights into the power and glory of Christ Jesus.

Wanting to express the Nativity Story in its full glory, I'll save you some time, knowing how busy the holiday season can be on most families. I chose scripture from the books of Matthew and Luke concerning the virgin birth and wrapped up the ending with a selected part of the opening of the Book of John. To make the Nativity Story flow smoothly, I set it into a block of type and remove a couple of "Ands," at the beginning of some verses. I credited each section with each author's name, while remaining true to the scripture in the Kings James Version

I hope you will enjoy the way this moves and pray that as you read, you will be touched by the true, one and only spirit of Christmas Love. In the meanwhile Mrs. Highlander and I, along with our family and staff thank all those who opened their doors to us this Christmas Season and we wish you and your loved one's...A VERY... MERRY...HUMBLE HEARTED...CHRISTMAS!

Always believe in the Christmas Miracle...Praise the Lord and God Bless you all.

The Highlander


MATTHEW: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost...And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

LUKE: (In Bethlehem,) she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and placed him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. The angel said unto them...Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

It came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another...Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger and when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this child.

All they that heard wondered at those things, which were told them by the shepherds, but Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

MATTHEW: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying...Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him...In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet... Thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, art not the least among the princes of Judea: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, and said...Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. When they were departed, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying...Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coast thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying...In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

When Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying...Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets...He shall be called a Nazarene.

JOHN: He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not, but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

King James Version

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