Virginia Folklife Program

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Breaking Up Christmas

Posted: 2009-12-21 | Categories: Folklife FieldNotes |
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When Christmas is over, the fun is just getting started for many in Southern Appalachia.

The tradition of “Breaking Up Christmas” is a week-long series of gatherings, where people get together in each other’s homes and jam until the wee hours of the morning. Many generations participate, and it’s a really wonderful way for the community to come together and wind down the holiday season.

The Spencer Family — who form the core members of the Whitetop Mountain Band — and Wayne Henderson — legendary luthier — both regularly hold “Breaking Up Christmas” jam sessions in their homes. Here’s a video of a jam session in Wayne’s home, featuring the Wilkesboro, NC-based band, the Kruger Brothers.

These celebrations are rooted in the old mumming traditions from Ireland, Scotland and the old world. These are essentially visitations – a group of men would bust into a house and perform plays and other festive performances in homes. Back then they would wear masks and do it for little bits of money and gifts. But now, they do it for what they love best, which is music.

This isn’t just for professional musicians or folks who are real virtuosos of their instruments. It’s also beginners, folks who just picked up a fiddle or guitar for the first time. That’s one of the great aspects of this tradition. It’s what keeps it strong and will into the future.

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