229: Christmas Eve

Here’s wishing everyone who celebrates it a very merry Christmas. Don’t forget to leave out some treats for the house and land spirits tonight.

To get you in the mood, here are a few quotes about Christmas from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“Some people think that the weather on December 25 is somehow correlated with the rainfall and temperature of the following summer. A mild Christmas, according to many Ozark farmers, always means a heavy harvest. A good season for the crops is supposed to be bad for human life, however, hence the old saying that ‘a green Christmas makes a fat graveyard.’ Still other hillfolk believe that it is Old Christmas (January 6) and the eleven days which follow Old Christmas which really determine the weather for the year.”

“In some sections of Arkansas there are people who bury the entrails of a black hen under the hearth on ‘Old Christmas.’ This is said to protect the house against destruction by lightning or fire…I know that some ‘peckerwood families’ did bury chicken guts under their hearths as recently as 1935, not far from the enlightened metropolis of Hot Springs.”

“It is very bad luck to bring cedar boughs or mistletoe into the house, except during the Christmas season. Mrs. Isabel Spradley, Van Buren, Arkansas, says that every bit of green stuff must be out of the house before midnight on January 5, or some unspeakable calamity will overtake the whole family. Many old people feel that it is better not to have mistletoe in the house at all.”

“In some settlements this notion about the cattle kneeling has shifted from Old Christmas to New Year’s. Mr. Elbert Short, of Crane, Missouri, told me that his sister slipped out to the barn one New Year’s Eve ‘to see the critters kneel down and talk.’ At exactly twelve o’clock one old cow fell on her knees and let out two or three low moans. A moment later another animal knelt but with this the girl suddenly became frightened and ran back to the house. Another funny thing, says Mr. Short, is that if you go out before midnight on New Year’s Eve and cut an elderbush off flush with the ground, by sunrise it will have ‘pooched up’ at least two inches.”

“One often hears that mistletoe, known as witches’ broom, is used in casting magic spells and the like. Some farmers hang a bunch of mistletoe in the smokehouse, “to keep witches off’n the meat.” About Christmas time the country boys make a little money by gathering mistletoe and sending it to the city markets. These fellows all say that mistletoe doesn’t come from seeds but grows spontaneously out of bird manure.”

And here are some folk beliefs about Christmas coming from the Appalachians, this is from the blog Roadside Theater:

Children born on January 6 are special and often develop powers for healing the sick.

Animals kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve as they did by the manger when Christ was born. They also talk during this time. However, it is bad luck to catch them speaking.

Water turns to wine at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is bad luck to taste it.

Trees and plants bloom on Christmas Eve. (This legend is probably derived from the English legend of the Glastonbury Thorn, a thorn bush grown from the staff of Joseph of Armethea who fled to England after Christ’s crucifixion.)

If you sit under a pine tree on Christmas Day you can hear angels sing. But, beware! If you hear them, you’ll be on your way to heaven before next Christmas.

Breads and cakes baked on Christmas Day have special healing virtues. Some folks preserved them for use in curing illness during the coming year.

Christmas Day visits to neighbors’ houses require eating a piece of stack cake or mince pie to insure good luck. Visits from twelve neighbors insure good luck for the whole year – and certainly bring a lot of people closer together.

It is bad luck for a cat to meow on Christmas Day. If it does, evil spirits will visit every day during the coming year.

Coals and ashes from the Christmas fire should never be thrown out that day, and no coal of fire or light should be given away. (The Druids believed that each individual coal represented the spirit of a dearly departed kinsman and that they protected the home during the Yule season.)

A crowing cock on Christmas Eve scares away evil spirits. Shooting off guns and fireworks also works.

Angels are so busy celebrating the birth of Christ that one hour before Christmas the gates of heaven are left unattended. Anyone passing over at this hour has a good chance of sneaking into heaven without having to give account.

To hear the chirp of a cricket on the hearth is a good luck omen for the coming year.

Eating an apple as the clock strikes midnight brings good health.

Single girls who visit the hog pen at midnight on Christmas Eve can find out the kind of man they’ll marry. If an old hog grunts first, she will marry an old man. If a shoat grunts first, her husband will be young and handsome.

Christmas Day dawns an hour earlier than normal causing elder, poke, and other plants to bud and sprout. Then, the earth is again plunged into darkness and the plants wilt until spring.

Bees hum from dusk until dawn on Old Christmas (January 6). Some say they sing the hundredth Psalm, come out of the hive at midnight, and swarm as they do in summer.

Christmas Day weather forecasts the kind of weather we’ll have for the rest of the year: a warm Christmas foretells a cold Easter; a green Christmas, a white Easter; a windy Christmas means a good corn crop.

Christmas trees must never be removed before January 2; they must be down before January 6 or bad luck will follow. (Probably a result of past conflicts between Old and New Christmas.)

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