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Accidental Christmas Traditions

 
Tree at Work
The holidays are here with all of their pomp and circumstance, parties and decorations, traditions and food. Many of the celebrations around the holidays have their roots in ancient Christian beliefs and pagan festivals. But there are some that are, well, accidental.

For instance, stealing a kiss under the mistletoe. Viscum album, as mistletoe is known in the scientific world, is actually a parasite. Imagine, a stately tree providing homes for birds and shade for man is attacked by a vicious parasite that makes a home in its high branches by drilling a peg into its limbs so it won't blow away with the wind. OK, it's not quite that terrible, the tree only loses a bit of water, but still, the berries that are a delicacy for birds are poisonous to humans, and yet we bring it into our homes and hang it in doorways in hopes that our sweetheart will catch us underneath. 

Kissing under the mistletoe, according to the EarthSky blog, just kind of happened. There isn't a direct link or belief to old-time traditions, and Mistletoe didn't become a popular decoration until the late 18th century. Sounds like this might be our first accidental Christmas tradition. By the way, did you know that some people harvest it for decorating by shooting it out of the tops of trees? They must be a good shot!

NORAD SantaTurn the clocks forward to 1955 for the first occurrence of another accidental Christmas tradition. To set the scene, you find yourself in a fortified mountain bunker with two phones on your desk – one a normal, black phone and the other a red phone where only two people have the number and one of them is a four-star general at the Pentagon. Suddenly, the red phone rings, and with some hesitation, you answer – "Is this Santa Claus?" 

A misprint in a Sears, Roebuck, and Co. ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper invited kiddies to call Santa – only instead of going to the intended number, it went to the Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD. Colonel Harry Shoup was on the other end of the Santa line and quickly realized that it wasn't a joke when the little boy on the other end started crying. With Col. Shoup's quick thinking and Christmas spirit, he put a couple of airmen on the line to field the calls. And that's how NORAD started tracking Santa. 

You can listen to Col. Shoup's children tell their father's story on Story Corps.

We've discovered that we have a few accidental Christmas traditions among the Mast Store Family.

Cindy shares that her adult children like to send family members Christmas photos, but not of the traditional "everybody wear a red sweater" type. Instead, Cindy gets photos of her family re-creating famous album covers. She never knows if its going to be a group of rappers or a classic rock depiction, but it is fun to see what they come up with.

Tara goes on Shoe Patrol in her accidental Christmas tradition. Every year as the children are ripping through the wrapping paper opening their gifts, her mom, Nana, retells the story of the Christmas her mother's shoes got thrown out with the paper, never to be seen again. The end result was Tara's grandmother had to go home from the holiday celebration in stocking feet. Each Christmas, after sharing the shoeless anecdote, her mom checks each person's feet and gropes through the paper to make sure that another family member doesn't have cold feet on Christmas day. If Nana is not with them on Christmas day, one of the grandchildren steps in to tell the story and to search the wrapping paper. 

"Granny loved Christmas. ...It's been 24 years since Granny was with us, but the excitement of the red box of cherries is still there."- Deb

Deb says that Granny loved Christmas! It was her favorite holiday. Evidently, she was just a big kid at heart because Deb caught her unwrapping, then re-wrapping, her gifts one year – she just couldn't wait! Granny's favorite Christmas candy was chocolate-covered cherries, which she would enjoy on Christmas Eve. Wandering through the grocery during the holidays, Deb will spy the red box of chocolate-covered cherries and immediately thinks, "I must buy a box for Granny." It's been 24 years since Granny was with them, but the excitement of the red box of cherries is still there. Each Christmas, Deb purchases a box, grabs a cup of coffee, and enjoys the entire box thinking about the fun they had together.

The annual Prune Festival takes place on Christmas Eve, and has been a part of Sheri's holiday celebration for a decade or more. She's sure it had an innocent start, but it has developed into a competitive eating event that can have upwards of 100+ prunes consumed at the end of the meal. Stewed prunes were always a part of the family's Christmas Eve meal, but one year, apparently, not enough was prepared and an argument broke out about who could finish off the bowl. The Prune Festival was born. Neighbors have asked to be included in the meal to witness the prune eating competition. Winners have consumed 40-50 of the delicacies at one sitting, and the competition is always at the end of the meal. It's crazy when your dad calls and asks if eight pounds of prunes will be enough.

We'll end with a more traditional mountain celebration called Breaking Up Christmas. In the Appalachians, Old Christmas was celebrated solemnly on January 6, but the days leading up to it were filled with gatherings, parties, laughter, and music. According to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, people would gather for the 12 days between Christmas and January 6. The event would move from house to house and would continue far into the night. In this way, people would break up Christmas into many days of joy. Here's a video of fiddler Tommy Jarrell from the Sonker Festival in Mount Airy, NC, playing Breaking Up Christmas.