The holidays bring about a delightful mix of seasonal cheer and a big dose of nostalgia that will warm the heart of even the grinchiest elf. There are the lights, the music, the shopping, and the exhilarating anticipation of Christmas Eve. Then December 25th rolls around, and children of all ages run gleefully to the tree with hopes of finding their Christmas wishes brought to life. But what if, in the building of all that merry anticipation, kids instead found themselves having to wait until January to celebrate?
That’s how it was for many children back in the early 19th century. A whole eleven extra days were added to the wait in many remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains. A Smoky Mountain Christmas was observed in January because – from the 16th to the 18th centuries – there was a swap over between the older Julian calendar to the more updated Gregorian calendar. In “ye days of olde,” folks struggled to keep track of their yearly schedules. Plus, there was the whole confusion of moon phases and daylight savings time, and things got complicated. So in the 1800s, this left a lot of people in the Smokies still hanging onto old traditions and celebrating Christmas – according to the old Julian calendar – on January 6, which was known as “Old Christmas Day.”
In other odd Smoky Mountain Christmas traditions – or at least odd to our modern sensibilities – the whole family would stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve (January 5) and head out to the barn to watch the animals “pray.” As the old stories go, round about midnight, the animals would break into a worshipful chorus of bellows, brays, and whinnies to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
While these customs have faded into the past (though, there may be a few voices in choir lofts today who sound more like braying than singing), a Smoky Mountain Christmas in the 21st century is filled with plenty of wonderful traditions that our ancestors may think strange if they could see us now.
Still, there’s something uniquely magical about a Smoky Mountain Christmas, isn’t there? Picture it now – waking up on Christmas morning, a roaring fire crackling away in the stone fireplace, stockings filled with presents and treats. The lights on the tree sparkle in the early morning light, and the house is peaceful and warm inside while a flurry of snow blankets the ground outside. This picturesque scene is only enhanced by the festive activities that await in towns all across the Smoky Mountains. Here are a few ways you and your family can celebrate this season.
Do a Little Smoky Mountains Christmas Shopping
Ah, that time-honored tradition of Christmas shopping. It takes on an entirely new allure when you’re in the Smokies. From locally owned artist studios to grand shopping excursions, you can find unique gifts for the whole family everywhere you look.
Visit The Village in Gatlinburg for a unique Christmas shopping destination that is chock full of Appalachian charm and an Old World Dickensian vibe that will get you into the holiday spirit. Or find one-of-a-kind gifts for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list at the Christmas & Candle Shop at the Apple Barn.
Enjoy the Winter Weather with Christmas in the Smokies
With a Smoky Mountain Christmas, you’re almost always guaranteed an amazing winter wonderland. Slip on your mittens and pull the scarf tight around your neck as you venture out into the crisp mountain air. As a hush falls over the forest, wander out among the trees for a peaceful holiday hike or go wild and gather the family together for a playful snowball fight. When your fingers get frosty, head inside to warm up by the fire and wrap your hands around a cup of hot cocoa. Then get a jump start on the gift wrapping while you listen to Christmas tunes drifting softly from the speakers.
Have a Snowy Adventure
When the snow begins to fall, it’s time to liven up your Smoky Mountain Christmas. Head outside for some exciting outdoor winter activities. Whether it’s a snowy hike, tubing down the slopes, or strapping on a snowboard or skis, the great outdoors are always calling, even when – or maybe especially when – you’re celebrating Christmas in the Smokies. Try Ober Gatlinburg or the Cataloochee Ski Area near Maggie Valley for some amazing skiing. Or strike out into the wilderness on a hike in search of frozen streams and glittering waterfalls. And if the roads are clear, there’s nothing quite like a rejuvenating motorcycle ride set to a backdrop of snow capped peaks.
Enjoy Winter Attractions
You can find exciting attractions in the Smoky Mountains any time of year, but something special happens at Christmas when the streets are decked with festive décor and musicians and storytellers take their holiday cheer and “go tell it on the mountain.” All your favorite mountain attractions are taken to the next level with seasonal swag, and you can find a whole host of special events that only happen at this most wonderful time of the year.
Celebrate the Winter Solstice
The Appalachian Mountains are ancient, some of the oldest in the world, and they are filled with a long history of humans learning from the land, cultivating it, and caring for it. Pagan customs of folklore, faith healing, medicine, and agriculture are thriving as much now as they were when the first humans set foot on the mountains, and the Winter Solstice is one of the most beloved of those ceremonies. People all across the Smokies welcome the winter season with customs like a solstice sunrise at Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, or setting intentions for the new year as you light a yule lantern.
A Smoky Mountain Cabin
No Smoky Mountains Christmas would be complete without a stay in an iconic mountain cabin. Frosted window panes, crackling fires, and spectacular mountain views all come together to provide the perfect home base for your Christmas holiday. Choose a spot where you’ll find all the Christmas comforts you need where you can take in the views all while dreams of sugarplums dance in your head.