Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosts the Oconaluftee Visitor Center Holiday Homecoming on Saturday, December 16, 2017. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional crafts and activities from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Children and adults will have the opportunity to learn about and experience some of the traditions surrounding an Appalachian Christmas.
The visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season including an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch with a fire in the fireplace. In addition, the park will host the monthly acoustic old time jam session from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
“Musical expression was and still is often a part of daily life in the southern mountains, and mountain music is strongly tied to the Smokies history and culture,” said Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger, Oconaluftee Visitor Center. “This month our music jam will focus on traditional holiday tunes. We would like to invite musicians to play and our visitors to join us in singing traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs as was done in old days.”
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441), two miles north of Cherokee, N.C. For more
information call the visitor center at 828-497-1904. All activities are free and open to the public. Generous support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the Center is free and it is open to
the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the Center’s main entrance. You will find everything you need to experience the Park at your own pace.
The Visitor Center offers a unique view into the area’s past at the Mountain Farm Museum – a collection of historic log buildings from the late 19th century that were relocated here from all over North Carolina in the 1950’s.
Sugarlands Visitors Center will host the Great Smoky Mountains 41st annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration. The event is scheduled for Saturday, December 9th from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sugarlands Visitor Center a half mile south of the Gatlinburg national park entrance. This event is cosponsored by the Great Smoky Mountains Associationand is free to the public.
The festival will include old-time mountain music, traditional shape note singing, mountain craft demonstrations, and a living history walk. Visitors can also experience these traditions through hands-on activities such as make-and-take craft stations. Hot apple cider will also be served throughout the day.
“Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools where they celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts,” said North District Resource Education Supervisor Stephanie Sutton. “The Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions.”
Make sure and add all the fun scheduled to your calendar so you don’t miss a single minute!
9:30 Shape Note Singing
11:00 Old-time mountain music with Lost Mill
11:00 Memories Walk
12:00 Old-time mountain music with Boogertown Gap
1:00 Smoky Mountain Historical Society
2:00 Appalachian Christmas Music and Storytelling – NPS Staff
The popular Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11:00 a.m. Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays. Through this living history program, visitors will experience the spirit of the season in the mountains during the early days.
The Sugarlands Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs, and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the center’s main entrance. Here you will find everything you need to experience the park at your own pace.
Biltmore Christmas Celebration is a must for young and old! It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Biltmore House which rises in the early morning mountain mist like a fairy-tale castle. There is really no bad season to visit Biltmore, the largest private home in America, located in Asheville, N.C., but possibly the most amazing time (and our personal favorite) is for Candle Christmas Evenings held between November 3 and January 6, and is the only time of the year that the mansion opens at night. Each year Biltmore decorators select a different theme, and this year’s “Gilded Age Christmas” takes cues from stories told and retold about early Vanderbilt family celebrations. A towering 55-foot Norway spruce, ablaze with 45,000 twinkling lights, and hand-lit luminaries welcome guests as they arrive along a long circular driveway that surrounds the front lawn. Firelight reflects on thousands of ornaments that decorate dozens of Christmas trees located throughout the mansion’s grand rooms, but the most amazing is a 34-ft. Frazier Fir, ornamented from top to bottom and surrounded by elaborately wrapped gifts, that forms the focal point in the immense Banquet Hall. Miles of garlands festoon doorways, mantels, chandeliers and hallways and live performances of Christmas music begin at the entrance and continue throughout the house
The magnificent French renaissance-style structure, which encompasses 80,000 square feet, was commissioned by George W. Vanderbilt in 1889 and christened with a spectacular Christmas Eve party held for his friends in 1895. Vanderbilt, who fell in love with the western North Carolina area after visiting several times with his mother, purchased 125,000 acres (land that included more than 50 farms and at least five cemeteries) in order to build his incredible Blue Ridge Mountain estate.
Evening tours range from $70 to $85 for adults as compared to daytime tours priced from $50 to $60. Whichever you choose there are plenty of activities to justify the cost. Daily seminars include decorating with holiday wreaths and creating holiday tablescapes are available and the estate’s conservatory hosts an annual poinsettia and tropical plant display. Santa Claus welcomes the younger set in Antler Hill Village (home to several eateries, the Biltmore Winery and gift shops) each weekend through Dec. 20. Those who prefer the natural quiet and serene sense of peace the holiday season confers may opt to drive through the now 8,000 acre estate and walk through the lavish 75 acres of Biltmore gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, of New York’s Central Park fame. A variety of tours and package deals are available by visiting www.biltmore.com. Where you can also book al tour tickets online.
Smoky Mountains Fall Red Beauty Mountain Ash! Who wouldn’t love a beautiful ornamental tree, not too large or too small, with an abundance of leaves, pure white buds and blossoms in late spring followed by bright red edible berries in the fall, a tree that lives for up to 200 years and has the added (albeit folklorish) benefit of protecting us against evil spirits? Then meet the mountain ash, also known by its more romantic European name, the Rowan tree.
The first thing to know is that the mountain ash is not an ash tree at all. While the ash is a very large tree, the mountain ash varies greatly in size, according to the growing conditions, but tends to be much smaller (no more than 10 – 20 feet tall) than the towering ash and belongs to a completely different botanical family—namely, the rose! Indeed, the mountain ash is often so small that it is thought to be a shrub instead of a tree. It does, however, have a compound leaf similar to that of the ash (only smaller and with fewer leaflets), which is the apparent source of confusion.
The variety of mountain ash that grows in the Smoky Mountains is the American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus), which is very similar in nearly every respect to its European cousin (Sorbus aucuparia). The berries of both varieties often last through the entire winter into blossom time the next spring and thus provide an important source of food for wildlife, especially birds which play an important role is spreading the indigestible seeds of the mountain-ash. In England the berries, which are inedible raw, are cooked into a jam or combined with apples in a chutney and served with wild game and other meats.
The tree itself is very rugged and adaptable thriving in the Southern Appalachians. While it prefers a rich, well-drained soil, it will grow in nearly all soils, including our stubborn East Tennessee red clay, compensating for any lack of nutrition it encounters by simply adjusting its size.
In the British Isles the rowan tree is associated with many aspects of Celtic folklore and Christian traditions. Both Celts and Christians believed that the tree provides those close by with protection against various evils, especially witches. Hence, rowan branches were often fastened to the lintels of cottage windows and doors as well as over barn doors (for witches especially loved the prank of souring cows’ milk). Rowan trees were also planted in cottage and church yards for protection. The fact that rowan trees often grow in mountainous areas was also thought to drive witches from their favorite habitat, although the real reason seems to be that browsing animals, especially deer and elk, love rowan saplings and so devour those growing in the valleys.
During Candlemas (February 2—the traditional midpoint of winter) residents of the English Westlands (Thomas Hardy country) place crosses made of rowan twigs tied with red yarn about their houses to banish the dark of winter and welcome the coming light and warmth of spring. In Ireland the rowan tree is associated with St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland, whose feast day is February 1st.
The mountain ash lives so long, at least in part, because it has no pests or diseases that assail it. Deer, however, do browse on its leaves—a point to keep in mind if you plan to grow a mountain ash in your yard.
Whether for cultural or botanical purposes, the mountain ash is a native tree well worth considering for our own properties, both to add beauty and provide for wildlife.
Mountain Ash can be found be found in many popular high elevation destinations in the Smoky Mountains such as Mount LeConte and Clingmans Dome in addition to our sister national park the Blue Ridge Parkway.
HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.