Friday, December 07, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Several days ago a reader asked about Ocracoke Island Christmas traditions. As in many rural areas, Christmas on Ocracoke was a much more modest holiday in the nineteenth century. Although a detailed history of Christmas celebrations is too long for this blog, keep in mind that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a novel that greatly influenced our perceptions of Christmas and the way we celebrate the holiday today, was written only in 1843.

My father was born on Ocracoke in 1911. Blanche's father, Stacey Howard, was born on the island in 1885. We both remember our fathers remarking that Christmas presents were rare and modest when they were children. Some years there were no presents at all; other years children might receive an apple or an orange. One Christmas my father had a single orange in his stocking. He remembered rolling it back and forth across the floor with his sister for several days before finally eating it.

Although Blanche says she remembers always having a Christmas tree (a native cedar) in her house (she was born in 1919), earlier generations cut cedar branches and yaupon sprigs (with red berries) to decorate their homes. In later years paper streamers and "fold-out" paper bells festooned living rooms.

For a century and a quarter the Ocracoke Methodist Church has provided a large tree as the centerpiece for the community's Christmas Eve celebration. In earlier days parents would bring presents for their children and place them under the tree, or hang them from the branches. Inevitably some gifts were larger or more expensive than others which led to the abandonment of the practice. Instead, the church began providing "Christmas bags" filled with apples, oranges, peanuts, and candy for everyone in the community.

Santa Claus has long been an attendant at the Ocracoke Methodist Church's Christmas Eve service. He makes his entrance after the benediction, visits with children, and distributes the bags of goodies. Of course, the church's Christmas bags are no longer the primary holiday present for island children. The church still provides the bags of goodies as a unique island tradition, but nowadays only for those who request them.

Look for more Ocracoke holiday traditions in tomorrow's blog.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. I posted this on your Facebook page, but didn't know where you would see it quicker:

    Just wanted to let you know I've been enjoying your blog. My parents, Elizabeth and Calvin Hanrahan live on the island and I am currently living in China. For what it's worth, your blog is blocked in Chinaland, but I can access it with a VPN. I remember as a child spending many summers on Ocracoke on Howard Street. We'd stay at one of the Garrish's cottages - Next door to Irvin and Elsie lived - until Elsie started to do only long-term rentals. We then would get a place out in Jackson Dunes not far from my my parents now live. I have so many fond memories, like going to the Methodist Church twice a week for movie night and then being scared out of my wits walking back down Howard Street past the old graves. On days we'd take off from going to the beach due to sunburn, I'd often walk on down to the Village Craftsmen and wander around the shop to cool off before walking across to Silver Lake and playing in front the Garrish's place - long before they built the hotel blocking the view and breeze. Sorry for rambling so much, but reading your blog has brought back so many wonderful memories from my childhood. I just wanted to give you a big thanks!

  2. Hähn-Carlisle, thank you for the kind words, and pleasant memories. Please stop by Village Craftsmen and say hello when you get back to Ocracoke.