"CHRISTMAS GIFT" Oct 17, 2010 7:27:20 GMT -6
Post by cottonpicker on Oct 17, 2010 7:27:20 GMT -6
Larry D. Davis
Just today in January, 2010 I was talking with my cousin in Oklahoma and he asked a
question related to our past, about 58 years ago, which I had absolutely no idea how to
answer. Search as hard as I might, I could not come up with a suitable answer to his question.
He and I grew up together, our mothers were sisters and we have always been close to
each other and somewhat like-minded. We started school together in the first grade and
were, indeed, bosom buddies throughout the years. Even, to this day, our thoughts still
run along parallel lines as does our sense of family tradition and the love of family
history which were instilled in us by our mothers and our grandmother. This is not
unusual since most traditional southern families are quite similar with respect to their
reverence for traditions, family history and their ancestors who are somewhat responsible
for molding them into the personalities they are today. That’s one reason, when you look
at the old and fading photographs kept by a traditional southern family, the ancestors
always command a prominent place…whether it be in an auspicious position on an
Appalachian cabin wall or in a modern suburban home. Such was the case when I grew
up, literally under the unerring gaze of big oval-framed Victorian
photographs of our grandparents and great grandparents looking down on us and ‘passing
judgement’ on every family gathering ever held in my grandmother’s home. Now, after
all these years, these treasured family photographs have been entrusted to me and my
dear cousin for future generations.
After this rather lengthy preamble, let’s get into the story at hand and find an answer
to the simple question my cousin posed today.. “do you remember the greeting our
great Uncle Charley, grandmother’s younger brother, proclaimed when he first entered
grandma’s front door on every Christmas Eve?” Lacking any suitable answer to his
question, I waited to hear my cousin’s reply….
His explanation was as follows: he had remembered Uncle Charley’s Christmas Eve
greeting for all these years but declared he never realized what was meant by the
‘strange to us’ greeting. Uncle Charley always entered the farmhouse door loudly
exclaiming… “Christmas Gift”!!! Then….all our mothers along with grandma, grandpa,
Aunt Irene and Uncle James would echo with, “Christmas Gift!!” to which Uncle Charley
would immediately reply, “I said it FIRST !”. Back then no one else took much notice
of what was said except for my cousin, Jerry. Even at his young age of perhaps 10 or 12,
he always thought it a strange greeting.....until very recently when the greeting’s origin
was at long last revealed to him in a 100 year old book.
A friend of Jerry’s in Missouri had given him a box of very old books from the late
1800s--early 1900s and one of the books was entitled “Christmas Night with Satan”. It
was written by John R. Fox, 1863-1919 and his stories always centered around life in
Kentucky where he had grown up. Our grandma & Uncle Charley were Kentuckians by
birth and this particular story held the key to this longtime family mystery---the
Christmas greeting of Uncle Charley’s.
This particular story by John Fox was about a little girl’s dog named ‘Satan’ and as
was customary in the pre-Civil War days in Kentucky, the little girl’s family had gone
visiting on Christmas Eve afternoon, leaving ‘Satan’ behind in the care of their old Negro
[sic] servant, “Uncle Billy”. Well, it seems that “Uncle Billy” wasn’t at all happy about
that and was indignant that the negroes [sic] on the plantation were traditionally required
to begin at four o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve to slip around corners or to
jump from secret hiding places and shout, “Christmas Gif”, Christmas Gif”. The
person--whether master’s children or slave-- who shouted it FIRST got a gift!!! It was
meant to entertain the plantation owners, give the slaves a chance to receive a gift and to
heighten the overall excitement centered around Christmas.
So, finally, in that long forgotten and century-old tradition from their home state of
Kentucky came the tradition of saying “Christmas Gift” first! They were supposed to
get the gift!