Sycamore Shoals event celebrates holiday traditions

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2017

While Christmas day may have come and gone, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is inviting everyone to join them in celebrating ‘Old Christmas’ at Fort Watauga.

The park will host the Old Christmas Celebration on Saturday, Jan. 6, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 7, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

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“The neat thing about the event this year is that Saturday falls on Old Christmas Day,” said Chad Bogart, historic interpreter and museum curatorial assistant at Sycamore Shoals.

Old Christmas Day, in some traditions known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany, marks the conclusion of the “12 days of Christmas.”

“Some folks celebrate that as the day the three wise men visited the Christ child,” Bogart explained.

Many of the old world traditions celebrated Christmas in a variety of ways over the 12 day period between Christmas and Twelfth night, and when settlers crossed the ocean to America, they brought those traditions with them.

There were a lot of settlers of Scottish or Irish origin that found a home in the Watauga Valley, so early Christmas celebrations in the area would have been marked by the lighting of bonfires which is a tradition of both cultures.

“One of the big Scottish traditions is what is known as ‘First Footing,’” Bogart said. “They thought the very first person who crossed their foot over your threshold for New Years would predict the type of luck you would have in the coming year.”

“You wanted a tall, dark-haired man to be the first person to cross your threshold,” Bogart continued.

The second best thing to a tall, dark-haired man was a red-headed man, Bogart explained, adding that it was considered bad luck for a woman to be the first person to cross the threshold.

“Sometimes these tall, dark-haired men would make a little extra money because people would pay them to be their ‘First Footer,’” Bogart said with a laugh.

This year, the cabins inside Fort Watauga at the Park will host a variety of different cultures and traditions.

“We’ve got a family that is going to be doing some Scandinavian traditions,” Bogart said. This will be the first year the Old Christmas celebration has featured traditions from Scandinavian culture, and Bogart said he is excited to see the new presentation.

In addition to the Scandinavian cabin, visitors can also check out customs from the French, English, Irish, and German cultures at the other cabins in the fort.

“I enjoy the German cabin a lot,” Bogart said. “Ramona (Invidiato) does a fantastic job there.”

“The Germans brought us perhaps the most well-known Christmas decoration — the Christmas tree,” he added.

Bogart said he enjoys visiting the different cabins each year to see what new information or traditions the historic interpreters have prepared for the event.

“Folks can come and get an idea of where these traditions got started and who brought them to America,” Bogart said.

For more information on the Old Christmas Celebration, contact Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park at 423-543-5808.