Serenading with Firearms

Happy Epiphany! If you’re like most people in the South, you may have no idea what this means.  January 6th is a day celebrated around the world as the day God manifested as Jesus Christ, and is, what came as quite a shock to me, the 12th day of Christmas in the song.

While Epiphany most often takes the backseat to Christmas in North America, it is still celebrated and preferred by some of the old timers in parts of Appalachia, referring to it as “Old Christmas.”

I drank too much wine on New Christmas Eve to tell about the serenading tradition, so I figured Epiphany is as good a day as any since Old Christmas is the most revered as a holy day, and the end to the whole Christmas season.

Would you believe me if I told you that deep in the hollers in Appalachia children roam the streets with guns and fireworks in costumes and the occasional blackface to terrorize their neighbors on Christmas Eve- as tradition??

Well, that’s exactly what happened for years, known as serenading and is a practice that is fading fast.  Like a Mischief Night gone awry, when the kids set off serenading, the neighbors know exactly what to expect. A Foxfire Christmas details many stories about this tradition, one such described by Tammi English and Holli Hickox where children would show up together around midnight on Christmas Eve and all at once shoot off shotguns and fireworks, ring cowbells, and make as much noise as possible to scare their neighbors.  Often, “the neighbors would invite them in and give treats to everyone such as oranges, apples or even small toys (21-22).” It was also common for the kids to play tricks on their neighbors such as painting their horses faces black with shoe polish (30) or taking apart a neighbor’s wagon and reassembling it on the roof (24).

This tradition at its height is as much lore now as the ghost of Christmas past, and the customs of the old country only live on through fruitcake and the faint glow of candles in the window.


What do you think of when you hear the word, “foxfire?”  Some confuse it for the web browser Firefox, others of the book series on Appalachian traditions and life, and others just roll their eyes assuming it’s some sort of science fiction thing.  Yet, you will be hard pressed to find people, especially city people, who can tell you the answer to, “what is foxfire?”


Foxfire, also known as “fairy fire,” or “ghost light” is a biolumnescent fungus that exists in decaying wood, and is present in parts all over the world.  It often ‘activates’ when the wood has been stepped on or agitated, causing it to break open, but there have been accounts of people who have walked up on entire trees glowing, undisturbed.

If you are taking a walk through the woods at night, always TURN OFF YOUR FLASHLIGHT.  Breathe as your eyes adjust, and then make sure to look for the faint blue-green glow of foxfire as you step through brush and rotting trees.

I personally have never seen foxfire West of Alexandria, TN at the start of the Cumberland Plateau, but I would be willing to bet that you could find it at one of the Warner Parks if the light pollution is not too strong now.

Where have you spotted foxfire?