In the 1930’s, Christmas season on Hatteras
Island was the most exciting time of year, rich in traditions and
revelry. This was especially true for children as it was the only
time of year they would receive a toy.
According to the book, The Kinnakeeter,
by Charles T. Williams II, Christmas festivities started well before
December 25. Stores were stocked with fireworks, brandy, and
apple cider. The noise of fireworks would fill the air day and
For a week or two before Christmas, the young
people would dress up in unusual clothing and parade through the
streets of Kinnakeet, going from home to home and making a great
racket. They would cover their heads with black stockings with
holes cut out for their eyes and mouth. The eye and mouth
openings would be circled with white embroidery, and a long red nose
made of flannel was sewed on. Every night they would go on a
“gala warpath visiting their neighbors, eating their fresh cooked pies,
playing the harmonica, and dancing on their porches,” according to The Kinnakeeter.
Everyone would laugh at the young people dancing foolishly in their
outrageous costumes at their doorsteps! Some of the younger
children would be running at their heels, and the revelers would try to
chase them off.
The younger children had their own tradition
since they weren’t allowed in the parade. They would get up
before daylight and run through the village, banging on huge lard cans
that had to be carried by two children. This practice was called
“Hollerin’ for Christmas!”
In 1933, a new school building was ready; the old
one had been destroyed by a hurricane. According to Stanley E.
Green’s book, Kinnakeet Adventure,
students showered their teacher with gifts every Christmas. Mr.
Green came to Hatteras Island from the western part of North Carolina
as a brand new teacher. He was told by Mrs. Keaton, who owned the
house he boarded in, about the practice. So he ordered Eversharp
pencils, wrapped them with colorful paper and ribbons, to be ready for
the last day of school before the holiday.
Students planned a program for Christmas,
including carol singing and gift giving. They decorating the
school building with crepe paper, cedar and holly, and yaupon with its
red berries. The students brought lanterns as the school had no
electricity at the time. The night of the program, Mr. Green was
amazed at the boisterous singing and celebration. He wrote of his
experience, “I felt no place on earth had more good voices than
Kinnakeet, and now, as they burst into song, I was absolutely
The big event of the season was the Christmas Eve
program at the United Methodist Church. Young and old would put
on their best clothes, and the children nervously hoped they would not
forget the speeches they had memorized. The church would be
packed, and the moment would come when all the children and young
people marched in. One by one, the younger children were called
by name and went forward. Some were shy and forgetful, needing
help from their Sunday school teacher; others were boisterous and
loud. Then the older children acted out the ancient story of
Jesus’ birth. This tradition is still carried out on Christmas
After the program, all would gather by the
church’s Christmas tree to receive their presents. Each family
brought gifts to be given out with the rest of the community. My
mother said that she can still remember feeling so important when they
called her name out - “Stella Scarborough!” - and she would go up and
get her gift of a brand new doll. Everyone received a bag of hard
candy from the church as well.
On Christmas Eve, the children hung their
stockings and awoke to find them filled with a small toy, raisins,
candy, and an orange. Goose was prepared for Christmas dinner
along with collard greens and sweet potatoes. A great many pies
were baked – sweet potato, mincemeat, and pies covered with
meringue. I was told that the pies my grandmother made were kept
on a board balanced on two chairs in an unheated bedroom.
Hatteras Islanders lived an isolated life in
those days. People worked hard and endured the harsh conditions of
They made up for it in their community celebrations, with Christmas being the biggest celebration of all.
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