Christmas! Lore, Recipes, Stories, and More



I have compiled a list of posts from my other blog that have ideas, stories, crafts, folklore, traditions and more about this holiday season.



From Yule and Solstice to Old Christmas to elves and paper stars and simple gifts to make, there is a bit of something for everyone in the list below.

Enjoy!






Mincemeat and the mincemeat tarts recipe

Here We Come A-Caroling!

Here We Come A-Caroling!

 My mind has been filled with carols these past few weeks as I practice and research for the upcoming Here We Come A-Caroling! program. I present this show with my friend, folk musician Jeff Seager, and each year we add new stories and songs to our performance. This year's new songs include:
  • Nova! Nova!, a medieval carol with an interesting construction
  • Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, a carol written in an Appalachian cow barn
  • Welcome Yule!, a hearty welcome to the coming of Solstice
There will be stories that tell the history and lore behind each of these carols as well as all of the other carols included in our program. Some favorites, such as The Huron Carol and Don in Yon Forest are also on the agenda. Recently I learned of a family connection to the Christmas Truce of 1914, and that story will be included in our rendition of Silent Night.


From last year's fun: attendees playing parts with masks for an old
Appalachian song.
There is so much more--there is such a wealth of carols! And there is fascinating lore too--the traditions, superstititions, prohibitions, etc. connected with our celebrations of the holidays. Holly, ivy, the bringing in of greenery, the food customs, ways to assure good luck and fortune, finding a mate, the Yule log...it's not what to include, it's how much we can manage in the time we will have.

Here is the schedule of our performances so far. Call or email me for more information. I hope to see you at one of these events!

  • NOVEMBER 28: HERE WE COME A-CAROLING, CEDAR LAKES, RIPLEY, WV 7:00PM, ROAD SCHOLARS PROGRAM.
  • DECEMBER 10: HERE WE COME A-CAROLING! HOUSE CONCERT, FREDERICK, MD. 7:00PM. CONTACT ME FOR DETAILS.
  • DECEMBER 11: OLDE TYME CHRISTMAS, HARPER'S FERRY, WV, ST. PETER'S CHURCH, 1:00PM, FREE PUBLIC PROGRAM.
  • DECEMBER 17: HERE WE COME A-CAROLING! PHILIPPI PUBLIC LIBRARY, PHILIPPI, WV 2:00PM, FREE PUBLIC PROGRAM.
  • DECEMBER 18: HERE WE COME A-CAROLING! BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK, DAVIS, WV 10:00AM, FOR BREAKFAST WITH SANTA PROGRAM.

Ghostly Wanderings: The Storytelling Trail

Ghost stories season is beginning to wind down but it's been a busy time the past week for this tale teller.

Last weekend I presented two ghost walks in Ripley, WV, a mile-long stroll through stories of "mystery and history," as the director of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau called it. The walks are sponsored by the CVB and have become a popular annual tradition. Each year I research new stories to add and new tidbits from history to enhance the walk because many people return for the walk each year.

Over 100 people came out Saturday night for the ghost walk

The ghost walk was followed by a drive across West Virginia to the eastern county of Grant, where I told stories at the Grant County Library in Petersburg. A crowd of 50 turned out for the Monday night event. The audience included everyone from small children to senior citizens, so I had stories for all ages in my program.


While in Grant county, we took time to visit the Dolly Sods Wilderness area, one of West Virginia's most beautiful scenic areas. It was a very windy day and we had to be careful as we ventured onto the rocks to be sure we weren't blown over the edge! 

I remember when we camped on Dolly Sods about 15 years ago. An elderly gentleman camped nearby told us that he was one of the Dolly family for whom the rocks are named. Dolly Sods is known for its abundance of wild blueberries and huckleberries, which attract both humans and bears in the summer months. 

This gentleman said that when he was a boy they often spent days on the mountain picking berries, and that every 4 years or so someone would set fire to the mountain. Why? I asked. Well, he said, the brush would get to growing and crowding out the berry patches, so they'd burn it off to let the berry plants grow. That practice had to stop once the government took over management of the land. This reminded me of stories about the Native Americans burning off land so that the blackberries would come back in thicker and better.

We left to drive to central West Virginia for storytelling at a school in a small community that was a victim of the terrible June "thousand-year" flood. I had a great time telling tales at Birch River Elementary. I think the best--and most touching--part of the day was being interviewed by two 5th grade students. One of their first questions was, "Were you presonally affected by the floods?" They went on to describe some of the damage in their area. I did not suffer any damage to my home from the flood, but in this state we're all family, and what hurts one hurts us all. Thank you, boys, for reminding me of that.

In the few days remaining in this month I'll be storytelling at three more schools: for eighth grade students in Kanawha county, high school students in Putnam county, and elementary students in the northern panhandle town of Follansbee. I finish up with an evening of ghost stories at the south Parkersburg library. 

It's been a good month telling my favorite kind of story! Check out my upcoming performances here, and maybe I will see you at an event in the near future.

Ghosts in the Mist: A West Virginia Ghost Story


The Tray Run Viaduct near Rowlesburg. The viaduct is part of the image on the reverse side of the WV State Seal.

I found this story in three sources, but I think Ruth Ann Musick's version, with a citation for the teller of the tale, is most credible. She called it The Misty Ghosts in her book Coffin Hollow (University of Kentucky Press, 1977. pp 41-42). Dr. Musick heard the story from Theresa Britton of Rowlesburg, who had heard it from her grandfather. Other sources are Ghost Train! by Tony Reevy and Haunted West Virginia by Patty A. Wilson. Ghost Train! cites Dr. Musick's book as their source.

A young woman went to Pittsburgh to seek employment. (This was probably around the turn of the century when travel by rail was in its heyday). She found a position as household help and settled in to her job. But she grew lonely and she was homesick for the people and the place she left behind.

As it happened, she met a young man (one version claims she met him while visiting Rowlesburg, but Dr. Musick's story says that she met him in Pittsburgh). He was from a community called Manheim, which at that time was close to Rowlesburg, and now is incorporated within that town's city limits. With so much in common, they began to see each other a great deal.

Being far from home and lonely, the girl fell in love with the young man. Did he love her in return? That is hard to know this many years later. Whatever the case, he did not ask her to marry him. (Two versions of the story claim she was carrying his child, but the Musick story does not state that.) Perhaps he felt unable to support a wife financially, or thought they were too young to marry. It could be that he simply enjoyed her company but didn't care enough for her to marry her.

The girl grew despondent. She lost her position in Pittsburgh and had no choice but to return to Rowlesburg. As the train traveled through the night on the Cheat River line, she stepped out onto the platform. Perhaps she only meant to get some fresh air, or perhaps she was so upset over the turn of events in her life that she saw no other solution to her problems. As the train passed over the Cheat River caverns, she either fell, or she jumped to her death.

Bad news travels fast. The young man heard of her death and immediately returned home. He was overwhelmed with grief and felt he was to blame for her actions. On the anniversary of her death, the young man went to the scene of her death. He never returned.

When searchers found his body, it was a the bottom of the river near the caverns, opposite from where the girl had jumped.

The teller of this story said that old-timers say that on full-moon nights they would see mist rising from the place where the girl died; it would be joined by another mist rising from the Cheat River where the young man drowned, and then the joined mists would float away and out of sight.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It's difficult to verify stories like this since no names were attached to it by the time Dr. Musick heard it. Folklore often happens that way--while facts and dates may have been part of the story in the beginning, in time those seemingly unimportant bits were dropped and the main points preserved.
There are apparently several places that might have been the "Cheat River Caverns" or "Caves of Cheat" referred to in the story, all undeveloped sites. Online information suggests that a) the caverns are now called something else and are gated and inaccessible; or b) that they are actually located on the Dry Fork of Cheat. I wondered as I read the story if she had perhaps jumped at the Tray Run Viaduct, which looks like a good place to do such a thing.
So pinpointing the place from which the mists rise might not be easy. But it might be worth spending a night on the river to try to find out--if you dare.

I visited Rowlesburg almost 10 years ago. You can read about what the town was like when I was there in this post on my other blog. It is a lovely place on the river, remote and quaint, and yes, a place that could invite ghost stories.

For more information about Rowlesburg's railroad history, visit WV Rail Fan'swebsite. And for more about the town of Rowlesburg and it's role in the Civil War, visit the Rowlesburg Visitor's Guide.

October Schedule: Lots of Ghostliness

October is filling up with ghosties! I hope I will see you at one of these events:

October 6: Ripley, WV Middle School full day storytelling

October 10: Tamarack, tour group presentation. Private event.

October 11: Philippi Library, Philippi, WV. WV Ghost Stories, 4:00 for Teen Read Week

October 12-13: West Virginia Storytelling Festival, Weston, WV. Schools event and evening public performance.

October 15: Apple Butter Making at my house!

October 17: Mountaineer Tours, Tamarack, Beckley, WV. Private event.

October 21: Road Scholars presentation, Beckley, WV 9 am

October 21-22: Ripley Ghost Walk, 8pm each evening.



October 25: Grant County (WV) Library, Ghost Stories tentative

October 28: Hurricane High School, Hurricane, WV. Storytelling and workshop

October 31: Jefferson Elementary, Follansbee, WV. Ghost stories all day

October 31: South Parkersburg (WV) Library, Ghost stories, 6:30pm

Til then, happy haunting!

Museum Day at Campus Martius

Saturday August 6th Come to Campus Martius Museum to celebrate Museum Day! All day activities and all free! I'll be there telling stories so say hello if you come by.
From the museum's website: On August 6th come and celebrate Museum Day and discover everything that Campus Martius and the Ohio River Museums have to offer. A visit to the museums will not just be for historical discovery. There will be something for everyone from toddlers to seniors.
A variety of musicians will take us on trips to the past, highlighting various eras, instruments, and locales. Come and relax while you are serenaded by "Riverboat John" Ferguson, Scott Cain, John Whitacre, and Theresa and Richard Halsey.
Susan Fowler, artist, storyteller, and scientist brings her unique teaching techniques to Museum Day as she draws in young and old to learn about the history and environments of our inland waterways.
Doc Hollen, Purveyor of Patent Medicine, will be on hand with his Medicine Show to entertain and mystify. Visitors can step back in time when con men traveled the country side telling tall tales and selling snake oil to cure all.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, accompanied by their wives, Mary Todd Lincoln and Martha Washington will be on hand to greet and visit with museum guests.
Storytellers, Susanna Holstein and Judi Tarowsky will delight audiences with tales of long ago. Come and reminisce with us as they recall stories and events when times were simpler and stories had a lot of heart.
This is just a little of what the day will offer! So, mark your calendars for Saturday, August 6, 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM at Campus Martius & the Ohio River Museums. And remember, this entire event is FREE!

Tales from the Road

Stories from fellow travelers last weekend, all of us stuck for a short while at an airport:

  • the young black lady beside me, whose name was Tuttu (short for her real, Kenyan name), decided I was okay when I remarked as I climbed the stool that I needed either longer legs or a shorter stool. Tuttu was friends with the bartender and told her, "She's good people." We talked about her mother, who lived in Kenya and was getting her Ph.D. in psychology, about the relationship between mothers and daughters, her job as a mortgage litigator, and many other things before she had to leave for her flight, paying for my wine on her way out. 
  • the young man on the other side of me, who works concessions at baseball games, flying from one event to another.
  • a woman who said she was a traveling nurse, on her way to North Carolina for her next job.
  • a very young, thin girl who arrived sobbing. She'd fallen at her hotel and hurt her leg but had to come on to the airport only to find she'd missed her flight because of the traffic. She was in pain, stressed so badly she was shaking all over. We all talked with her and tried to calm her down. She said, "I was only 25% stable before, but now I must be down to about 22%." Poor young thing, I felt so bad for her. She ordered a glass of wine, and the baseball concession worker put it on his tab. He and the traveling nurse were still talking to her when I left.
  • before getting on the plane I picked up some water at a concession stand. The young man was friendly and helpful, with a great smile. "Where are you originally from?" I asked. "Bangladesh," he replied. "A very long way away. Welcome to the US," I said. His grin went from ear to ear. "Thank you, thank you!" 
  • As we waited on the shuttle bus, a couple told me they had been to watch their son in a baseball playoff. They are hoping for a college scholarship for him. Tired from a long trip just to get to the airport, and facing an hour long drive when they landed, they were still beaming as they talked about their 6 children and their hopes for them.
  • As I sat down in my seat on the airplane, the lady beside turned slightly away, huddled over her phone. She never spoke for the entire flight, and I wondered, what story does she have to tell? I will never know, but her face spoke of sadness and stress. 


And one last story, this one from the flight over. I opened the magazine provided by the airline to find the crossword puzzle, hoping no one else had done it. Someone had--or had tried to. It was impossible to complete because there were so many errors in the answers the person before me had written down, but they had left some notes on the page:

"I love you, Pop."
"I know you're here."
"Go with me tomorrow."

So much conveyed in those few words. We used to call our father Pop too. Whoever this person was, I hope that whatever they were facing the next day went well for them. Surely it did, with their Pop looking over them.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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