Things We Love About Christmas in Tennessee

Things we love about our Tennessee Christmas.

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Christmas in Tennessee is pretty special. Gone are the days when Southern Appalachia was isolated from the bigger, more modern world. Even those of us who live up in the hollers and hills have high-speed internet and satellite television! Our Great-Mamaws and Papaws might have cut an old cedar down and decorated it with strings of popcorn, and stuffed old, rough-spun stockings with horehound candy and the occasional coveted orange, but we’re all spoiled with ready-made decorations and treats these days.

Even with our modern ways of celebrating, there are still some mighty special things about this time of year in Tennessee. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite things about Christmas in Tennessee.  Read on to rev up your holiday spirit!

Sparkling Frost

Sometimes we have snow on Christmas, and sometimes it’s warm enough to drink our eggnog out in the sun! But, usually, Christmastime in Tennessee is a time to wake up to frost covering grass and trees, bursting into sparkling brilliance in the sunshine. It’s gorgeous and brisk, and it makes cuddling by the fire so much better.

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Old-Time Christmas

We have our share of modern life: malls, shopping, even laser light shows! You can tech it up as much as you’d like this holiday season, but if you ever want to slow down just a bit and enjoy the simpler things in life, we do that, too. We have old-fashioned parades and candlelight celebrations. You can go to the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, to see how folks ‘round here used to spend their holidays. You can enjoy the pleasures of a live choir concert at Walters State and Carson Newman—and, of course, at local schools and churches, too!

Dollywood

It’s big, and it’s flashy, but there’s no denying you’ll feel that festive tingle as soon as you get there! Dollywood does the holiday season to the max, with tons of live stage shows, millions of bright lights, locally made crafts and seasonal snacks and drinks. It’s worth a visit for the whole family!

Music

Tennessee is the birthplace of country music, and here is where you’ll find all the banjo, mandolin, dobro, dulcimer and any other down-home style music you can cut a rug to! Christmas music is even sweeter with that Appalachian twang.

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Family Time

Don’t get us wrong; right up until Christmas we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off! Church and school plays and concerts, gift shopping, parties and get-togethers, cooking, wrapping, decorating … we know how to do it up, just like any other part of the world this time of year! But when it comes to the special day, we spend it with our cherished family and community. We reflect on what matters most to us, and even though we love to give bountifully, we understand it’s not all about the stuff.

 

Interested in finding a new home in East Tennessee for the holidays? Get started at DarleneReeves-Kline.com.

A Tennessean Thanksgiving History

Thanksgiving wasn’t widely celebrated in Tennessee until the late-1800s.

Our lovely corner of Tennessee (in case you’re wondering, our corner is the upper East one) is full of transplants from all over the country. People move in for the beauty, the usually pleasant weather, the comfortable cost of living and the laid-back lifestyle. It’s a great place for families, too, with our country traditions.

But some of our most cherished traditions are transplanted here, just like many of our citizens. It might surprise you, but Thanksgiving was considered a Yankee holiday until pretty recently in our country’s history!

Even when the rest of the country—Michigan, New York, Ohio territories—were digging in to turkey dinners each fall in celebration of the early Massachusetts settlers, Tennessee didn’t join in. (Volunteers we might be, but Tennesseans have always marched to the beat of their own, mountain-made drum.) In fact, most of the South shunned Thanksgiving.

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According to the website SeriousEats.com, an author by the name of Sara Josepha Hale launched a personal crusade in the 1800s to nationalize Thanksgiving as a holiday, to be set at one, unified date each November.

It’s difficult to imagine a country divided over a holiday like Thanksgiving, but in the mid-1800s, we were in a period of political, religious and cultural turmoil. Many Southerners considered Thanksgiving to be bound up in the push for Abolitionist views, and rebelled against the holiday. (Remember when we said Tennesseans march to our own beat? Many will be surprised to learn that a Quaker in Jonesborough, Tennessee published the first newspaper in the country devoted to the Abolitionist movement. It was called The Emancipator.)

Adding to the alienation most Southerners felt in regard to the holiday was the Thanksgiving feast itself, full of cranberries and pumpkin pie and generally fare that wasn’t typically seen on a Southern table.

Thanksgiving didn’t become universally accepted in America until after the Civil War. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself tipped his hat (metaphorically) to the tenacious Sara Josepha Hale and ultimately declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. As a result of the political tumult surrounding the War Between the States, Thanksgiving was only patchily observed, at best, in the South. Eventually, though, the lure of turkey dinners and the sweet homecoming that Thanksgiving offers to many families won out.

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The traditional Southern Thanksgiving meal still includes recipes original to New England, like cranberry sauce and even oyster stuffing. Many Southerners still rebel a bit, though, adding in cornbread and pimiento wherever they can. Few things can bring people together like good food, and remembering that even us mountain-southerners wouldn’t be here without the first Yankees surviving their harrowing first winter makes us enjoy that second piece of pie even more.

So the next time you think your family talks about politics too much around the Thanksgiving dinner table, remember this fine holiday was adopted nationally during the Civil War! Political arguments are as American as pumpkin pie.

Check out DarleneReeves-Kline.com to find your perfect home for the holidays. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Traditions from the Old World to Appalachia

Where did modern-day Halloween traditions originate?

These beautiful hills of Appalachia were settled by folks from all over the world. In fact, Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee is famous as the homeplace of Melungeons, a group of people with mixed heritage, notably European, African and Native American.

But many of our cultural traditions, like carving Jack-O-Lanterns, came from the British Isles. In the old country, folks carved turnips to make lanterns this time of year. When migrants encountered pumpkins, it was decided they made much better spooky heads! And so, our modern form of celebrating Halloween by carving faces into pumpkins was born.

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Halloween is also a time of change; the weather gets cold, and summer has officially faded away until next year. Folks like the Celts (a common source of ancestry for Appalachians) marked this time of year by bringing their livestock closer to home and settling in for the winter months. This was also the time of year to acknowledge and celebrate the spirits of those who had died. Samhain was the Celtic festival dedicated to these ancestral spirits. Our modern-day practice of dressing up in spooky costumes and visiting our neighbors, and of scaring the heck out of each other, has its roots in Samhain.

All Souls’ Day is also marked by an older version of Trick-or-Treating, when children went door-to-door begging for “soul cakes.” For each cake received, the children said a prayer for an ancestral soul. Today, over 85% of Americans give out sugary treats on Halloween! This holiday by far outweighs all the others for candy sales and consumption. (Yes, even Valentine’s Day!)

Bobbing for apples isn’t as popular at Halloween parties these days, but in Colonial America and in the old country, it was a way to predict who was getting married next in the village! It was like a wedding bouquet toss—only edible! The object of the game was simple: whoever bit an apple first would be the next to marry. Apples are a major harvest this time of year, and we still celebrate fall’s arrival with delicious apple cider, apple pie and candied apples.

Probably the most popular modern reason that families have for celebrating Halloween in East Tennessee is community enjoyment. Many neighborhoods go all out, decorating the yard, even cooking out on the grill with other community members while kids roam around Trick-or-Treating, dressed up in costumes and enjoying the festive atmosphere.

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Not all the ghosts, goblins and spirits were left in the old world, though. Appalachian folklore is full of haints and boogers! A mixture of superstition, terrifying wild creatures (like mountain cats, called painters, that screamed like tortured women) and spooky, foggy surroundings make for the perfect backdrop for fireside ghost stories.

Appalachian Ghost Walks was a major resource for this blog on the great history behind how Appalachians (and most Americans!) celebrate Halloween. If you like history, and you’d like a spooky tour in our area, then go on one of their Ghost Walks.

Be safe this Halloween!

If, while you’re out trick-or-treating, you see a neighborhood you’d like to call home, visit DarleneReeves-Kline.com.

 

Volunteer Spirit

Again and again, Tennesseans prove why we’re the Volunteer State.

Last year, much of our beloved Smoky Mountains National Park was destroyed by wildfires. Much of Gatlinburg also burned, and that community was left with many scars. But, through volunteers and programs like Mountain Strong and Dolly Parton’s My People fund, Gatlinburg and the surrounding area has come a long way toward healing.

Tennesseans are called Volunteers, not just because we support the University of Tennessee, but because we are famous for stepping up when help is needed. During the Mexican-American war, when President Polk called for 2,600 troops to volunteer in America, Tennessee showed up with 30,000 men, ready to fight. This was after the Alamo, and former Tennessee Governor Sam Houston demanded great loyalty from his home state. This year, Houston needed help again, and Tennesseans showed up, again!

This hurricane season has been horrific, with Harvey and Irma causing devastation with record-breaking flooding in Houston and massive destruction of homes and land in the Florida Keys and along the West Coast of the sunshine state. Many people came up to East Tennessee to escape Irma’s fury, seeking refuge in the safety of our mountains.

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Now that the storms have passed, relief is needed, and Tennesseans have once again proven they go above and beyond the call of duty. Celebrities like Kenny Chesney and Dolly Parton donate time and money, but regular Tennesseans step up to help, too.  Tennesseans in Nashville and Knoxville showed up in droves with boats and other watercraft hitched to their vehicles, ready to drive to Houston for search and rescue efforts.  Knoxville firefighters, emergency responders, churches and volunteers donated time, money and relief supplies to help people whose lives were disrupted by these natural disasters. Knoxville residents are raising money for relief efforts in both Houston and Florida through sales of these t-shirts.

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It’s easy to watch the morning news and believe that we don’t care about each other in this country, that hatred and arguments and irreconcilable differences are the new cultural norm in America. But, when disaster strikes, we help each other. We rescue our fellow human beings from the floods, and bring food and drinking water to those who need it. So many people responded to the call for help in Houston that volunteers had to be turned away! Tennesseans were front and center in the big-hearted groups who showed up.

We’re proud to call Tennessee our home, and we love the giving hearts of our neighbors.

If you’re looking for a Tennessee home, too, visit DarleneReeves-Kline.com.

Underground Tour of Tennessee, Part II

There’s more to the ground around here than just what you can see on top of it.

Welcome back to the view of our great state from the underground! As we mentioned in last week’s post, Tennessee is home to gorgeous above-ground features: lovely mountains, dense forests, majestic wildlife. Rivers, waterfalls and lakes abound, here. Sunrises and sunsets dazzle the eye.

But there’s more to the ground around here than just what you can see on top of it. Tennessee is home to a network of caves and caverns that play a very rich part in our great state’s history, from the time when only Native Americans wandered their vast, stony rooms to eras of war, when soldiers would take refuge in the protection of the hidden caves and use their resources, like bat guano for gunpowder and fresh water to drink.

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Read on to find out where you can descend into the earth for a glimpse of history and geological wonders!

Forbidden Caverns

Located in Sevierville, Forbidden Caverns is a great attraction to spice up your Smoky Mountain vacation (or, for us locals to spend a day trip exploring underground!) As all our amazing caves do, Forbidden Caverns is full of unique geological features and clear, underwater streams. They have a worthwhile presentation and light effects in the cave, as well as guides to augment your trip.

Racoon Mountain Caverns

Head southwest to Chattanooga, where Racoon Mountain boasts of the state’s most popular Wild Cave Tours! As the name suggests, these caves are anything but tame. Open to the public since 1931, Racoon Mountain Caverns are home to some incredible underground scenery, fantastic geological formations and fascinating fossils. It’s a great place for adventure and education.

Tours can be physically demanding, though; part of the cave is considered “wild,” with no artificial light installations. Those wanting to explore on a guided tour of this part of the cave will need sturdy shoes and clothes (that you don’t mind getting filthy), a helmet with headlamp and knee pads and gloves. Racoon Mountain tour guides provide the gear.

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Ruby Falls

A tourist favorite, Ruby Falls is just outside Chattanooga, below famous Lookout Mountain. It was discovered in 1930, and has been fascinating locals and tourists alike ever since. This is one of the few places on our list where you can check out a breathtaking, bird’s eye view of Chattanooga and see an incredible underground vista—all in the same attraction! The underground falls are worth seeing. They’re lit up with a dazzling light show.

Cherokee Caverns

Cherokee Caverns is located on Oak Ridge Highway in Knoxville, Tennessee. This family-friendly cave hosts year-round events, such as “Movie in the Cave.” Are you a Harry Potter fan? Just wait until you see it surrounded by stone walls, stalactites and the occasional bat! Talk about ambience! Be sure to bring a light jacket and blanket, though; the constant 58 degrees can feel a little chilly if you’re not up and moving around.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog tour of area caves! Honestly, the list we featured is not nearly all of the caves under our feet here in Tennessee; we have the most (known) caves of any of these United States! But many of the other caves require advanced skills to explore. It’s just one more thing that makes Tennessee special.

As always, if you’re interested in finding the right real estate for your needs above-ground, please visit DarleneReeves-Kline.com. We’d love to help.

Underground Tour of Tennessee, Part I

Tennessee has a lot going on beneath your feet!

As you might imagine, much of the day-to-day living in Tennessee takes place above the ground. Hiking, swimming and boating, disc golf, shopping, school and work … all this stuff happens with the sky up above, or at least a typical ceiling and roof.

But Tennessee, no stranger to wondrous natural phenomena, has a whole lot going underneath your feet, too! Read on to find out what lies beneath the surface:

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Tuckaleechee Caverns

Tuckaleechee Caverns, located in (well, under) Townsend, Tennessee, is only 45 minutes from Sevierville and less than 20 minutes from the famed Institute at Tremont, located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tagged as “The Greatest Site Under the Smokies,” these caverns are pretty popular.

Inside, you can see a chamber almost big enough to fit a football stadium, and the tallest subterranean waterfalls. The whole underground tour is about a mile and a quarter, round trip. With gorgeous cave formations and a rich history, Tuckaleechee Caverns is well worth the day-trip.

And, when you’re done touring the cave, you can go for a walk, bike and camp in the gorgeous Smokies!

Cumberland Caverns

Cumberland Caverns, a U.S. National Landmark, are located in middle Tennessee, about an hour and 40 minutes from Nashville. Your experience here could last for days, with everything from short explorations to overnight trips and even live, underground bluegrass concerts available! We think the bluegrass tickets are the best value; you get a day pass to tour the caves before watching the show.

Like most caves, the temperature is just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, year-round, so it feels warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Constant temperatures also mean these cave attractions are open pretty much every day!

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The Lost Sea Adventure

The Lost Sea, located in Sweetwater, is America’s largest underground lake. Here, you can take a boat trip … underground! You can also take more traditional, walking tours in the caverns. These are worth the trip: some of the most rare cave formations can be found here, including 50% of the world’s known “cave flowers.”

If you’re hungry and still up for some adventure after your tour, there is food and a little bit of souvenir shopping available at the Lost Sea Adventure, as well as nature walks through the woods.

Appalachian Caverns

Way up in the northeast corner of Tennessee is Appalachian Caverns, in Blountville. Here, you can take guided tours of the caverns and kick around in the campground, gift shop and “gem mining” shop. This is a fantastic location for history: the Appalachian Caverns have been important to the residents of the area since the 675 A.D. In more recent eras, the bat dung found inside the caves played an important role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars: it was a key ingredient for gunpowder!

Each of these amazing, underground natural wonders is an absolutely unique experience that can (and should!) be shared with the whole family. Formations like this are just one more reason that Tennessee is a great place to call home.

Check in next week to find out about  more famous Tennessee caves!

If you’re looking for real estate above ground, check out DarleneReeves-Kline.com. We’ll be happy to help.

Eclipse Madness (and Other Natural Phenomena)!

As locals know, Tennessee is no stranger to awe-inspiring natural events and features.

The total eclipse of the sun, visible at totality in many locations here in East Tennessee, is just three days away!

People from around the country are flocking to our area to view this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. We’re hoping for good weather to view the eclipse. If you’re planning to get a glimpse of the eclipse, please keep in mind that not all eclipse glasses are equal. Get NASA-approved lenses if you’re going to stare up into the sky on August 21!

Also, be aware that interstates and highways are going to be choked with traffic. Between out-of-town eclipse-chasers and locals trying to get the best view, there is an extremely high volume of vehicles expected to be out and about over the next several days. You don’t want to be stuck in a wreck instead of witnessing one of the most noteworthy scientific events of our time!

As locals know, Tennessee is no stranger to awe-inspiring natural events and features. To prove it, we’ve listed a few below.

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Synchronized Fireflies

Every summer, in a specific location in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a breed of fireflies get together for a unique light show. These little guys glow frenetically for several seconds before total darkness descends in the woods, almost like a firefly switch getting flicked off. Then they start back up again! You can witness the synchronized fireflies yourself, but you have to get on a waiting list. After all, if everybody went tramping around in the woods after these little glowy guys, they’d probably be crushed into extinction. Check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website to find out more.

Wildlife

Black bears, white-tailed deer, owls, skunks, coyote, turkey, bobcats and painters (mountain lions) … even though the great herds of buffalo and elk were moved on when people moved in generations ago, Tennessee is still home to an amazingly diverse roster of wildlife. Even in neighborhoods closer to urban areas, turkey, deer and even bear sightings aren’t at all unusual!

New Madrid Earthquakes

Reelfoot Lake, which stretches into Arkansas, Missouri and about as far into western Tennessee as you can get, is relatively young for a natural lake: only about 206 years old. The New Madrid quakes (named for a town on the Mississippi River that took the brunt of the damage) were the strongest quakes in recorded history east of the Rockies. Although it’s pretty to see now, the site of Reelfoot Lake was terrifying on the night of December 16, 1811, when the Reelfoot Rift gave a mighty heave!

Haints

With natural wonders like blinking fireflies, glowing foxfire, bobcat cries that sound like distressed women, and drifting, eerie fog, it’s no wonder our lovely valleys and ridges are fertile ground for ghost stories and superstitions. You can’t learn Tennessee history without hearing a ghost story or two! Click here to read more haint recollections.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little bit about the wonder of our lovely state! If you’re looking to settle here, check out DarleneReeves-Kline.com for current listings.