27 Nov 25 Days of Christmas Activities for an ‘Old Timey’ Country Christmas
I am fortunate enough that I grew up going to the Virginia mountains throughout my childhood. My family and I would make the trip from Indiana to Virginia, winding around and around icy mountain roads so that we could celebrate Christmas where my parents grew up. Those are some of my best memories of my childhood.
I was also fortunate enough to catch tiny glimpses into what it must’ve been like for my parents during their respective childhood Christmases–traipsing through the deep snow on the farm to choose (and cut) their Christmas tree, getting some of the ham that had been hanging in the smokehouse, opening jars of vegetables and fruits that had been “put up” over the summer.
All of this made me think about how sad I am that my daughter will never experience those things with my grandparents–such amazing people who lived simple lives, but knew how to celebrate the season. So, I decided to put together a list of things that you could do with your kids that would help celebrate an “Old Timey” Country kind of Christmas.
Country Christmas | 25 Days of Christmas Activities to Celebrate an Old Fashioned Appalachia Holiday
1. Cut your own tree.
One of the best memories I have is of my paternal grandfather dragging a Christmas tree down the snow-covered mountain on their farm in Virginia. He would get up way before daylight (and any of us), pull on some old coveralls and then take an ax and cut down the year’s tree. (Sometimes my grandma would complain about his choice.)
If you’ve never done this with your family, it is a must experience–even if you just do it one time. It’s not just getting the tree, it’s the whole process–walking through the trees, looking at different ones (arguing with each other), cutting the tree, dragging it back (or riding the tractor back). All of it is awesome.
Check this website for Christmas Tree Lots in your state.
2. Make your own tree garland.
If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve probably seen pictures of Christmas trees with paper chains or strings of popcorn garland. These are cheap and easy ways to decorate your tree that brings back a feeling of simpler times. Not only that, it gives the family some time to reconnect. So turn off the TV and put away the smart phones, grab some needles and thread, cranberries and a big bowl of popped popcorn and get to stringing! If you have younger gets, let them make paper chains.
3. Make centerpieces and mantel pieces from things you gather outdoors.
Have you checked the price of mantel decorations or center pieces lately? WOW. Instead, try making your own this year. You can make beautiful decorations with the limbs from Christmas trees (ask the tree farm where you cut your tree), apples, oranges, cranberries, nuts and pine cones. And, you don’t even have to be a crafty person! Just arrange them in a big bowl and put them right on the table. Plus, it’s functional and people can eat the oranges, apples and nuts!
4. Hang old-fashioned stockings.
Back in the day, stockings didn’t look like the fuzzy red stockings we hang today. They were actually the socks (or “stockings”) of the kids—long, plain stockings. My dad told me that they used to hang theirs behind the big potbelly stove. This year, try hanging your own stockings and filling them with old fashioned items like nuts, oranges, apples, stick candy and handmade toys. (Yes, kids really did get excited about those items back in the day!)
5. Turn off the lights and listen to an old-fashioned radio Christmas show by candlelight.
I’ve listened to my mom and dad both tell stories of gathering around the radio to listen to family shows. This would be such a great way to slow down the pace of the hectic holiday season. Make some hot chocolate, light some candles and find a great oldie but goody show to listen to online. Check out this free archive online (there’s a great Disney one on there!) and also Old Time Radio Christmas.
6. Get rid of electronics for the night and play games by the fireplace or candlelight.
We did this for a while every Friday and we definitely need to get back into it! For the holidays season, I think we’ll do it by candlelight and Christmas tree light and bust out some old fashioned games like dominoes and cards. Don’t forget to brew up some creamy hot chocolate (or check out this spicy kind if you want something new).
7. Make your own Christmas candy.
One of the things that I always remember about Christmas in at my grandparents’ houses in Virginia is the ribbon candy. The candy that we had was always store bought, but I thought it would be fun to try and make our own! Here’s a recipe for homemade ribbon candy, but be careful! Pulling hot candy can be dangerous, so make sure you completely understand the process and have the proper gear!
8. Make your own tree ornaments.
We do this every year because it’s so amazing to look back at them through the years when you decorate each year. (Be sure to put names and dates on them!) To keep it simple like old-timey Appalachia Christmases, make paper snowflakes or paper Christmas trees, or even paint and decorate pine cones to hang on the tree.
9. Make your own Christmas gifts.
There’s something awesome about making holiday gifts for others, don’t you think? It’s the time that you take to make it and then find out that it is appreciated even more by the receiver. My mom always talks about getting home made corn husk dolls. My parents also talk about how they used Sears Roebuck Catalog pages to make chains, stars, or other shapes during Christmas. So, go basic! Make a corn husk doll or use all those magazines around your house to make snow flakes or other awesome things. (Need some ideas? Start with Pinterest.)
10. Wrap homemade gifts in homemade paper.
As I get older, I find that I like simple wrapped Christmas gifts more than the ones that look like they came wrapped from a high-end department store. This year, forget the character aper and go for simple and old fashioned. Wrap the gifts in what you have around the house–newspaper, magazine pages, aluminum foil or even that brown shipping paper (which happens to be my favorite). Add some brown twine and an evergreen twig with a hand-written name tag and you have a great gift!
11. Make popcorn balls.
Popcorn balls were a favorite treat because they were simple and cheap. And, they’re really fun for kids to make. You can even get creative and include an ornament hook in a couple to hang them on the tree as an ornament!
12. Sing carols by the fire (or go out caroling).
Years ago, when I lived in Virginia with my own family, I was cooking dinner one night when I heard something outside. My husband and I looked at each other like, “What?” We went to the door and was surprised to find a group of Christmas Carolers, smiling and singing in the cold night while little puffs of cold came out of their mouths. That was probably 13 or 14 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday!
If you have a family or group that is game, gather them up and go caroling in the neighborhood or even at a nursing home or assisted living facility. It’s such an old-fashioned thing that will bring back memories for many!) Or, just stay home and sing some songs at your own house around the fire or by candlelight.
Check out LyricsMode if you need lyrics to your favorite holiday songs.
13. Visit a small country church for a Christmas program or service.
If you’ve never visited a small, country church, I urge you to try it during Christmas. It doesn’t matter your religion or belief system, it’s just a really simple and sweet thing you should experience. Find out when the church is doing a Christmas program or a Christmas service and go during then. Trust me on this one.
14. Make a pomander ball.
A pomander ball is a piece of fruit that is pierced with herbs so that it makes an aromatic. Traditionally, cloves are placed into the skin of a whole orange and then tied with a ribbon so that it can be given as a gift or hung on the tree. You can also make a bunch of them and place them in a bowl as a centerpiece. It’s so simple that this is a fun craft for all ages in your family.
Directions for Making a Pomander Ball
15. Make dipped candles.
Many Appalachian family homes didn’t have electricity (some still don’t). So, the families relied on lanterns or candles for light during the dark hours. Some families even made their own dipped candles. The cool thing about the link we’ve provided here is that these candles can be used as ornaments to hang on the tree (don’t light them!) or even given as gifts. (Don’t forget to include a “Handmade by [your name]” tag if giving them as gifts.
Again, this can be a dangerous craft, so monitor the children making them with you and never leave them unsupervised during this process.
16. Make apple butter and homemade biscuits.
This was always one of my favorite things about visiting my grandparents in Virginia when I was growing up–there always seemed to be a never-ending supply of apple butter and homemade biscuits. If you’ve never had homemade biscuits, you’re missing out. Southern style homemade biscuits are heavier (more dense) than those flaky canned biscuits and they really aren’t as hard to make as you think.
Also, if you aren’t familiar, apple butter is like a jelly made with apples. Most of the apple butter sold in grocery stores is nothing like what I ate growing up–the place that comes closest is the restaurant Cracker Barrel. So, definitely try making your own apple butter, too. It’s easy in the crock pot and you can put it in jars for gifts, too!
17. Listen to classic Appalachian music.
There’s something special about Appalachian and simple country music. Check out these resources to experience it.
18. Read the story of Christmas from a book or the Bible.
One year in our family, we went around the circle and each took turns reading parts of the story of the birth of Jesus from the Bible and it was one Christmas at my parents house that really sticks in my mind. So, create a new tradition where you read a book or the Bible about the true meaning of Christmas. Check out these resources:
19. Read a book about traditional Appalachia Christmas or share family stories around the fire.
Light up the fire or some candles, make some hot chocolate and then share about Appalachia Christmas traditions. If you’re family has experience, then share those stories, or find some Appalachia Christmas stories online to share!
20. Help a family.
Country living is also about pulling together and helping each other out. In the summer, you’ll see country folk dropping off extra tomatoes at neighbor’s house or sitting on each other’s porches breaking beans. They help when a family member is sick or just about any time needed. To really embrace this part, bake some extra cookies and take to a neighbor or friend. Or, support organizations that give to families in need like Monkey Do Project’s Holidays 4 Hunger.
21. Make a dried apple stack cake.
OK, I have a confession, I don’t remember these. However, my aunt and my dad assures me that they had these growing up and that I’ve probably had it. Since then, I’ve researched it and it seems do be a pretty big Appalachia staple. Let me know if you make it!
22. Make mulled cider.
I’m not a fan of cold cider, but I find something comforting about mulling cider and having a mug of it with a cinnamon stick in the winter. Plus, it’s great for all ages, so include it with your storytelling or caroling time!
23. Make snow cream (or snow ice cream).
I actually remember making this with my mom and brother when I was a kid and it was awesome. My dad tells me stories of scooping of clean, white, fluffy snow on their childhood farm in Virginia Appalachia and making this as a treat with his family. Today, make sure you get a clean place to collect snow. You can even put a plastic bowl out while it’s snowing to collect some clean snow.
24. Make fried pies.
The southern fried fruit pies are nothing like the ones you get from convenience stores today–trust me. Fried pies served a purpose for mountain people because they were able to use the dried or canned fruit that was “put up” during the summer and fall and make a treat for the family. Back then, they were often fried in lard (and many die-hards still make them this way), but today you can use vegetable oil and we’ll forgive you.
25. Spend some time outside.
Here’s something about old-fashioned country kids that varies from today’s kids–country kids spent (and spend) a lot more time outside. So, bundle up the family and enjoy some outdoor time–go sledding, build a snowman, build a snow fort, have a snowball fight, go for a winter hike in a local park, call a local farm and ask if you can visit them one day to see how they handle the animals and chores during the winter. (Farmers are way more open to this than you think.) Just get out and enjoy the outdoors!
What have I missed? Do you have memories of an Appalachian or country Christmas? Leave your memories in the comments!