Christmas in Appalachia

For several weeks now, I have been on the lookout for moments to photograph that (at least to me) show the customs, culture and spirit of “Christmas in Appalachia.”

But so far, all I’d been able to find…

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 was Santa and Mrs Claus breakfasting at the Moose Café (a popular farm to table restaurant),

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an aging elf trying to transport wrapping paper on his bicycle,

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and a young mermaid surprising Santa – none of which were what I had in mind.

The days passed and suddenly Christmas was upon us. Tom and I drove up to his parents’ farm for dinner.

They live in a picturesque holler, a small valley that lies between mountains in Yancey County.  This wasn’t my first visit here, but I had never before seen it at dusk.

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 Their home, with the windows glowing and smoke coming out of the chimney, set against a backdrop of mountains, looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tom is a fifth generation Appalachian and this entire valley was once owned by his great-great-grandparents. Over the years, the land was subdivided and then subdivided again among the siblings of each successive generation.

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Family descendants still live in homes and on farms throughout the valley.

During the 45-minute drive up the mountains, I saw a few possibilities for the photographs I’d been after. But it wasn’t until we walked inside the family farmhouse

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that I realized I had finally found exactly what I had been looking for.

Each room was decorated for the season and table was beautifully set with Tom mother’s Christmas china.

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Mouth-watering smells filled the air and pretty soon, a feast of ham, garlic cheesy grits, sweet potatoes, and oyster casserole was laid out before us.

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And for desert, there was a delicious homemade fruit cake (made with applesauce) – a recipe from Tom’s great grandmother.

Farm, family, food, and celebration – it was all right there.

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And it had been all along.

Want a taste of Appalachian Christmas?  Try Tom’s great grandmother’s recipe!

Granny Young’s Applesauce Fruit Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 quart applesauce
  • 1/2 lb butter, melted
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup figs, 1 cup dates, 1 cup nuts – chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp cloves
  • 3/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix nuts, fruit, sugar and spices together in a large mixing bowl.  Stir melted butter into mixture, then flour and soda. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased and floured tube pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour and 15 minutes (or until done.)

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Merry Christmas from Appalachia!

Author: kristin fellows

Kristin Fellows is a street photographer & travel writer, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Kristin’s adventures in the past several years have taken her to Iceland to hike volcanoes and photograph puffins; to Barcelona, Mexico, Addis Ababa, and New Orleans for street photography; and most recently, to Athens for a big fat Greek wedding, and to Helsinki to get beaten with frozen birch branches in the city's oldest public sauna. She has worked as a documentary film consultant on more than 65 films. Her photograph, “Skywalker,” was chosen as a National Geographic Photo of the Day in 2015. Kristin is still working on her first book, The Red Moon Letters – a non-fiction, dual-narrative thriller set in Ethiopia during the time of the Haile Selassie. Educated in both London and the US, Kristin also has a cherished diploma from the Icelandic Elf School (Álfaskólinn.) Kristin is the niece of the late New York Times foreign correspondent, Lawrence Fellows. Follow Kristin on Instagram @ kristinfellowsphotography

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