A Coastal Christmas & Chris Moose

Christmas is both a very personal and a community time.
Last year was our first Christmas on the coast, and it was an easy decision to haul a Crab Pot Christmas tree back to Roanoke, Virginia.

Our Crab Pot tree was the source of much interest then, and at least a couple of visitors during this holiday season have taken them back north.

One of the most interesting coastal Christmas celebrations that I have found is one in Rodanthe and Salvo near the Chicamacomico life saving station. 

For over one hundred years residents in the area have celebrated Christmas both on its normal December 25
th day and Old Christmas which is celebrated eleven days later in the first week of January.  Old Christmas comes from the days before the Gregorian calendar which removed eleven days from the year.

The Old Christmas celebration starts with an Oyster Roast, music, bonfires, and the ritual visitation of Old Buck, a bull like, costumed creation which legend has it roams the woods during the year and comes out only during the Old Christmas festivities.

We lived in Nova Scotia along the coast for a number of years.  One of the Christmas traditions there and in Newfoundland was that of Mummers.  During the time from after Christmas Day until Old Christmas, costumed visitors knock on doors while singing songs and hoping to be invited in for a drink or some food.  There is even a Mummers’ song by the Great Big Sea, a Canadian folk-rock band from Newfoundland and Labrador.  This is part of it.

Hark, what's the noise out by the porch door?Dear Granny, there's mummers, there's twenty or more.Her old weathered face lightens up with a grin.Any mummers, nice mummers 'lowed in?Ah, come in lovely mummers, don't bother the snow,We'll wipe up the water sure after you go.And sit if you can upon some mummer's knee.We'll see if we knows who ye be.Ah, there's big ones and small ones, tall ones and thin,There's boys dressed as women and girls dressed as men…

In some places there is a tradition that if the host cannot guess the identity of the group they have to join them in their merry making.

My mother before her death used to tell us about Christmas on Styers Mill pond in Yadkin County just west of Winston-Salem.  Christmas was not so much about the gifts as about the celebration of the season.  She was born in 1910 and remembered most of Christmas treats being fruit, nuts or candy.  Some clothes or other useful items might be given, but toys as Christmas gifts were as rare as automobiles for transportation were on the roads.

One of the special traditions was the cutting of a country ham which had been specially prepared for the season. My mother talked of her father driving wagons onto the ice of the mill pond to harvest ice for their saw dust insulated ice house, but most of the meat had to be eaten fresh or cured. 

Late fall and the winter holiday season was a time of plenty since the weather was cool enough for the seasonal killing of the hogs.  Mother claimed that hogs were especially good when fattened mostly from a barrel where kitchen scraps were mixed with water and some grain.  Somehow slopping the hogs makes a little more sense when viewed from that perspective.

I suspect my mother’s childhood had a lot to do with the Christmas preparations that she made when she became an adult.

For years until she got into under late eighties, Christmas was a time of baking and candy making.  She would do a dozen or more of the proverbial fruit cakes which were well laced with brandy.  There would also be fudge, soft mints, applesauce cakes, spicy cheddar cheese straws, and finally what became another family tradition, peanut brittle.  Presents were often hand crocheted hats or afghans.

Even today, we try to hunt down some raw peanuts and dig out the granite slab that we inherited from my mother and make a batch or two of peanut brittle when we gather for Christmas and the weather turns cold.  Not surprisingly one breakfast is usually a meal of country ham, and our oldest daughter often surprises us with cross stitch or knitted gifts.

While some Christmas traditions come from the countries where our families originated, many are a medley that families develop on their own as they move through different areas.

I grew up near Winston-Salem which has strong Moravian traditions.  Moravian Sugar Cake and Cookies were part of our holidays.  I can still remember a trip to an Old Salem Christmas Candlelight service, and of course when we moved to our farm in Canada we took along a Moravian Christmas Star with its twenty six points.  It was not long before we had to import a few for neighbors along with some Moravian Cookies.

Our first Christmas in Canada along the shore of the Bay of Fundy helped us pick up a few more Maritime traditions.  That year I had pickled herring as one of our holiday meals.  Many of the local Nova Scotians had lobster as their holiday meal.  That first Christmas was something of a lean one with little extra money to spare so we had to create almost all of our Christmas decorations.

We made some of our decorations out of salt dough and painted them with water colors.  We also did many hand-carved wooden ornaments for our tree.  There was one special ornament that ended up on that first coastal Nova Scotia tree.

I had stared out trying to carve a reindeer out of some scraps left over from the pine paneling that we were putting on the walls of our farm house.  It did not take long to figure out that Moose antlers would be easier to carve, so thus in the winter of 1971, the Christmas Moose or Chris Moose for short was born.

That winter strings of popcorn and cranberries joined our handmade ornaments on a fir cut from the back of our farm.  Since that time we have collected unusual ornaments, and not surprisingly I have received a veritable herd of ornaments, with each Christmas Moose more unique than the last one. 

We started our children early on their own ornament collection, but perhaps the best part of the tradition of Chris Moose has been giving to each of our three children their very own Christmas Moose which I carved by hand.  As each of our children moved out on their own, they got a wooden Moose ornament which was also accompanied by a letter which took as long to write as it did to carve the Chris Moose.

I actually took the time to cut and cure the wood for each Moose from the back of our property on the mountain in Roanoke, Virginia.  In our family getting your own Chris Moose was symbolic of growing up and being able to develop your own Christmas traditions.

As the days of the Christmas season have flown by this year, we have enjoyed our first Christmas here in Carteret County.  It has been a special treat even as I remember my father telling me of the salt fish and oysters from the NC coast that were always his special treats for the holidays.

We have enjoyed some oysters from Jordan's and some wonderful Crystal Coast shrimp.

The Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church Candlelight Christmas service with luminaries was a special treat.

I think each member of family will take away some special memories from this, our first Christmas, when we opened our presents with salt water in the background and shrimp on the menu.

David Sobotta is a Realtor®, Writer, Photographer, and Fisherman.

The picture in this post was taken near our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, approximately twenty-five years ago.