Joy Amidst Loss: Christmas Inside Appalachia

Dec 22, 2016

This week's Inside Appalachia is a special holiday edition.  We hear stories of Christmas past, present and hope for the future. We’ll check in with West Virginians still recovering from historic flooding that hit about 6 months ago, find out how to avoid gaining weight, hear a story about a welcomed Star of David on a Christmas tree, and more.

After losing her husband, daughter and grandson during the summer 2016 flood, one woman prepares for a different kind of Christmas. “My husband loved Christmas. I mean, our house used to be decorated so bad that the electric company would send us a Christmas card, so that’s going to be hard but there will be new traditions not the old ones,” Deborah Nicely said.

How to Help Bring a Little Extra Joy to the Holiday Events

So what’s the best way to support a loved one who’s grieving?  Here are a few tips from the West Virginia Family Grief Center:

  • Don't isolate yourself from others
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Feel the pain (let the emotions flow)
  • Step away from the chaos
  • Remember, what you are feeling is normal 
  • Ask for help

Christmas with a Jewish Touch

This year, Christmas Eve coincides with the beginning of Hannukah -- the Jewish Celebration of Lights.

Linda Pickholtz Klein and her father, Bob Pickholtz, both grew up Jewish in a Pittsburgh neighborhood called Squirrel Hill. He recalls holidays with Jews and non- Jews, and he even has a special Christmas memory. Their interview was recorded as part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a partnership of the national nonprofit, StoryCorps, and Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

A Long-Distance Christmas

Families of inmates in seven prisons in central Appalachia are able to connect to their loved ones through a radio show, called Hip Hop from the Hilltops, Calls from Home. Every Monday night there are dozens of family members trying to get through to WMMT radio station in Whitesburg Kentucky.  Around Christmas time, the lines to the radio station are overloaded with families trying to get through.

DeVaughn Hall's family. They produced an audio postcard for DeVaughn during the holidays, with the help of producer Sylvia Ryerson.
Credit Sylvia Ryerson

WMMT broadcasts the show from the Appalshop studio in Whitesburg, KY on Monday nights from 7 until 10. The producer or DJ takes music requests for the first couple of hours, and from 9-10, families call into the station to leave recorded messages for their loved ones in prison.

A Civil War Christmas

A Civil War reenactor dressed as a Union soldier
Credit Liz McCormick

We also take a step back in time to find out what Christmas was like in Harper’s Ferry in 1864.

“The war’s coming to an end, and everybody feels that, and you can feel joy while you’re feeling pain,” re-enactor Melinda Day said.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from WMMT, Georgetown University and StoryCorps.

Music in today’s show was provided by Josh Ritter, Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons, as heard on Mountain Stage, and The Ritchie Collins Three O.

Our producer is Roxy Todd. Our editor is Jesse Wright. Zander Aloi mixed this show.  We’d love to hear from you. You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.