Here are a couple southern Christmas traditions you may not have heard of.
If you’ve worked with the Porch Company, you know we will always be true to a couple things. First, we are a porch builder through and through. There are many different structures an outdoor building company can focus on and most companies build them all. We’ve staked our claim in porch building because we believe that it delivers a better way of life. Our porches are about fresh air, relaxation, unwinding and spending quality time with people you cherish. We are also distinctly southern and distinctly traditional. As the holiday season calls us all to reflect and celebrate, we thought it would be fun to share some distinctly southern holiday traditions.
The roots of Southern Christmas traditions and celebrations run deep. The American South was making merry long before it became the standard practice for the rest of the country. In fact, Alabama was the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday in 1836 with Louisiana and Arkansas following suit a couple of years later. Christmas wasn’t officially recognized as a federal holiday until 1870.
No holiday celebration is complete without garlands, greenery and traditional fare. Here are a couple other fun Christmas traditions that owe their roots to the south.
Magnolia and Pine Décor: We have the settlers that landed at Jamestown, Virginia to thank for this beautiful tradition. After they noticed pine was an evergreen, they began using it as a symbol of good fortune and hope. The use of magnolias and pine in décor was popularized in the South, it can now be seen in holiday swags, wreaths, and garlands all over the country.
Poinsettias: Poinsettias are known as the beautiful plant with red blooms synonymous with Christmas cheer. Originally the poinsettia was a popular decoration for the Christmas season in Mexico, and the botany-loving U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett brought back clippings of the plant to his South Carolina home. The shape is said to be evocative of the Star of Bethlehem, and it’s popularity spread throughout the nation, especially after Congress declared Dec. 12 National Poinsettia Day. Nowadays the poinsettia is available in more colors than just red, including cream and various shades of pink, however for many Southerners, it is just not Christmas without a cheerful poinsettia gracing the mantle or as a holiday centerpiece.
Citrus Fruit: Stockings in the South weren’t always filled with candy and toys. A long-standing Southern Christmas custom is for parents to leave oranges in the fireside stockings of their children. The origins of this puzzling gift stemmed from the rarity of citrus fruits and the expense of such an extravagant gift. In much the same way other fruits, such as grapes, were considered a luxury during the 18th and even into the early 19th century, so was citrus. Southern port cities would welcome ships bearing citrus fruit from Florida, and pineapples and coconuts from the islands. They would usually arrive in the winter and were considered rare and costly delights.
It was until the advent of railroads that allowed faster shipping of perishables, however, citrus deliveries rarely spread beyond coastal areas. Even when the expensive fruit did arrive in rural Southern towns, they were deemed once-a-year treasures. The Southern Christmastime craving for the flavor of oranges also influenced the popularity of holiday recipe staple known as Ambrosia, and for many it’s just not Christmas without that. Citrus also appears frequently in Southern holiday décor in the form of slices for fragrant potpourri or as whole oranges in garlands.
Pecan Pie Though the proper pronunciation can be a hard nut to crack, whether you say Puh-kahn or Pee-can doesn’t matter when you sit down to a piece of this holiday treat. Pecan pie was developed right here in the South. According to folklore, French settlers in Louisiana developed the holiday dessert along with divinity and pralines, two other pecan-based treats that have become treasured holiday items. It only stands to reason that pecans would become a staple for desserts here in the South since the harvest season for pecans runs September thru December; pecans are readily available. Their abundance and availability have made them a favorite flavor for the Christmas season and keep nutcrackers busy at holiday parties.
The Old Calendar: If you ever travel to Cape Hatteras or NC’s Outer Banks during late December to Early January you may witness the celebration of Christmas twice! This is because in 1752, England adopted the Gregorian calendar, which shortened the year. On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the English settlers didn’t get the word for decades and had been unknowingly celebrating the holiday when they always had, on what, in the new calendar, was Jan. 6.
Outer Banks residents, being an independent bunch, decided that the old date was fine and continued to observe the holiday in January. That’s the legend, anyway… today, residents have found a place for both holidays. Christmas Day is celebrated as a time for traditional family get-togethers and Jan. 6, called Old Christmas, is a big community party.
The list of distinctly Southern Christmas traditions is long and colorful, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Just like every other holiday in our culture, Christmas in the South is full of beauty, grace, and family. Take time this holiday season to reflect upon your treasured family Christmas traditions. There’s nothing like Christmas in Dixie!
“Christmas in Dixie, it’s snowin’ in the pines
Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight”
— Christmas in Dixie, Alabama, 1982
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all, from the Porch Company.