The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Christmas In John Hayes Hollow

By Hazel P. Hedrick © 1983

Issue: December, 1983

What was Christmas like seventy years ago in John Hayes Hollow? Well, for sure it was nothing like it is today, but oh so much better. Even though we seldom got a toy, when we did it was homemade rag dolls, tops made from wooden spools and games drawn on cardboard.

Somehow our parents managed to scrape up enough money to buy us something we only got once a year like an orange, stick of peppermint candy or a pack of gum and those in school would get a pencil and tablet, the cost of both was six cents. Those who didn’t go to school might get a pair of stockings. It was always something we needed.

We never hung our stockings on the mantle. We set our plates on the table for Santa. At Christmas time only, Mom would make a fresh coconut cake and we would let Santa have the first piece and a glass of milk. Along with that cake Mom would make sweet potato pies, peanut brittle and popcorn balls.

Mama saved every piece of colored wrapping paper we got hold of all year. At Christmas she let us kids cut that paper in little strips. She made a paste of flour and water and we made chains to decorate with. We also went to the woods and found running cedar. Our tree was always a holly with lots of red berries. It didn’t need any more decorations.

Christmas was so simple then, so much fun, but most of all, it was so loving. There was no TV, no radio, no newspapers and no one tried to out do their neighbor.

Christmas was a time to sit around the fire and have Daddy tell us stories of his childhood; sing Christmas songs and read the Christmas story from the Bible which always lay on a table in our living room. We children were never allowed to take that Bible off that table, but we could stand around the table and turn the pages, look at the pictures and ask questions everyday, if we wished. We wore that Bible completely out, but I still have the pieces in a plastic bag.

Christmas was a very special family time at our house. Santa was important but not for what he might bring. If he didn’t bring us anything we knew it was because we’d been disobedient or some kids down the road needed something more than we did and Santa didn’t have enough to go around. We were taught to share everything we had, not just with each other but with our neighbors too. Even though we had very little we were never told that we were poor. If we ever complained because some kid at school had something we didn’t, Daddy always pointed out something we had that they didn’t. We were never made to feel like we were beneath anyone. Mama would say, “It’s no sin to own only one dress but it is a sin to wear it dirty.”

I have three children. One daughter and two sons plus three others we have sorta adopted along the way. We have seven grandchildren and almost that many more that call us grandparents. Every Christmas we try to get the family together for a few hours. Our daughter lives in Baltimore, Md., one son in DC, and the other son in Martinsburg, W.Va. We have been living in Ridgeway, Va. for the past 29 years and God has been very good to us. We have had Christmas together for all those years.

Seventeen years ago, we decided to show our children and grandchildren what an old fashioned Christmas was like. We found a large building in the woods about seven miles from town. It had no electricity, no heat, and no running water. We found an old wood cook stove and all agreed not to buy anything. We would make all decorations and gifts. My brother and I would do the cooking.

You should have been there. We had thirty people ranging in age from two to sixty-two. The weather was cold and windy, around nine degrees above zero was the high. Everyone had a swell time. In fact, it was so great that they all wanted to do it again next year. Christmas is truly the nicest time of the year when it’s celebrated properly.