Appalachian Christmas Tradition: Burning Santa’s Letter

Photo courtesy of Don O'Brien
Photo courtesy of Don O’Brien

Of all the holidays on the calendar none are as nostalgic or heartwarming as the one we celebrate on December 25th.

The history of Christmas is deep and varies greatly not only from nation to nation, but often from family to family and from generation to generation.

In a region and era where money was scarce and extravagant gifts were nearly unheard of, the people of Appalachia from a century earlier put their unique touch on this ancient holiday.

Initially, many Appalachian families were opposed to bringing in Christmas trees due to their perceived “pagan influence,” however, coal companies and public schools gained influence in the region, Christmas trees soon became an acceptable and welcomed sight in the mountains.

In a time when oranges were considered an exotic fruit by many in the mountains, families would receive Christmas “gifts” from the mines in the form of fruits, nuts and candies — sadly, often the cost for these gifts were cut from the miners’ wages.

Nevertheless, Christmas has long been a special time for folks in Appalachia, providing an opportunity for the people of the mountains to put their own special twist onto things.

As the belief in Santa Claus made its way in the “hollers” of Appalachia, so too did the children’s desire to write to him.

Though children around the globe began writing letters to Santa in the latter half of the 1800s, in the Mountains of Appalachia children would burn their letters in a fireplace and “fairies” would carry their message up the chimney and deliver it to Santa at the North Pole.

The practice of burning letters to Santa caught on and soon spread to other rural communities around the country; however, the growing popularity of electric and oil heating eventually made this practice into a lost Christmas tradition.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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  1. I remember sitting at the table with my sister and brother and writing letters to Santa Claus. Then we would throw our letters in the fireplace and watch them them burn and go up the chimney. We knew that Santa would read our letters on the wind because Grandpa said so and our Grandpa knew everything and never lied.

  2. when we was kids we did that every xmas and my kids when little did the same we would wait till the note was just ash and then let the fire take it up the flue and now it hard to send one up a radiator I am from the north west of England

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