Jessica Lilly, Roxy Todd Published

Finding Christmas Spirits, Comfort & Joy Inside Appalachia


This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear stories of Christmas past, Christmas present and even hope for Christmases in the future.

We’ll start with a journey into the past.

Civil War Christmas

Every year, dozens of people in Harpers Ferry go back in time. In the shops and at the national park, it’s 1864 all over again. It’s fun for locals and visitors to see how people in West Virginia celebrated Christmas in the Victorian era. But it’s also a reminder of how bittersweet it can be for people to try to find a bit of good cheer in the midst of a long and terrible war.

Looking for a Holiday Drink That’s Grown & Brewed in Appalachia?


Credit courtesy photo
Josh Bennett is co-owner of Hawk Knob Cider and Mead in West Virginia.

The cider business is booming in parts of Appalachia. The first business in West Virginia to brew hard cider, Hawk Knob Cider and Mead, is celebrating their grand opening this weekend. Owners Josh Bennett and Will Lewis started making cider together as a hobby nine years ago when they were at West Virginia University. Roxy Todd recently traveled to their cidery for a preview tasting and she brought us back an audio postcard. Hawk Knob Cider and Mead is open by appointment to those who call ahead. (334) 324-5114. 2245 Blue Sulphur Pike, Lewisburg, W.Va.

In Virginia, 18 cideries exist, and last year their sales jumped 200 percent. Industry analysts expect the cider boom to continue.


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What’s in a Name?

Do you know what town in Appalachia supposedly got its name from a shindig decorated with lanterns so bright and festive it looked like Christmas?

There are a lot of town names that spark the holiday spirit, such as Eggnog,  Rudolph, Elf. Last year we even talked about Mistletoe, Kentucky. When we heard about Christmasville, Tennessee we had to know more.  We spoke with Jere R. Cox of the Carroll County Genealogical Library about how the town got its festive name.

Families Send Audio Greetings to Loved Ones in Prison

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. It’s a show we first talked about last year on our Christmas episode when we listened to some of the messages left last Christmas.


Credit Sylvia Ryerson
Family members of DeVaughn Hall gather to make an audio letter to him. DeVaughn is currently serving a prison sentence at the Red Onion State Prison in Wise County Virginia.

This year, a former producer of Hiphop from the Hilltop, Sylvia Ryerson, actually left the studio and traveled to speak directly with some of the families. Sylvia worked with the families to capture scenes from their lives to broadcast for the inmates to hear.In this episode, we’ll hear a piece she made for an inmate named DeVaughn Hall, who’s currently serving a prison sentence at the Red Onion State Prison in Wise County Virginia. Click here to hear the entire radio program featuring three audio letters from family members.

How to Help People Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One During Christmas

In this show, we also hear from Stephanie Savitch with the West Virginia Family Grief Center. It’s a non-profit organization that works to help families with children who have lost a loved one. Stephanie Savitch says she and a few other folks started the group about 12 years ago when they noticed that there wasn’t much help for people who were grieving in the region. Savitch shared a few tips for those grieving this holiday season:

  • 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

Mountain Christmas: A New Children’s Book From W.Va. Poet Laureate

The poet Laureate of West Virginia, Marc Harshman recently published a children’s book called Mountain Christmas. Glynis Board sat down with Harshman and illustrator Cecy Rose, and brings us the tale.

We’d love to hear from you.   You can e-mail us at Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.

Subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcast here or on iTunes here, or on Soundcloud here or on Stitcher here.

  Music in today’s show was provided by Josh Ritter, Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons, as heard on Mountain Stage, and The Ritch Collins Three O. Our What’s in a Name theme music is byMarteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition. Our Appetite Appalachia theme music is by the Carolina Sunshine Trio.


For more (holiday) music from Mountain Stage, subscribe to the NPR Mountain Stage podcast on iTunes.