A holiday tradition: Old Stone House celebrates Christmas with simple joys

  • Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013 12:07 a.m.
Theresa Pierce, volunteer at the Old Stone House, talks about holiday traditions and customs during tours Saturday at the annual Christmas celebration.
Theresa Pierce, volunteer at the Old Stone House, talks about holiday traditions and customs during tours Saturday at the annual Christmas celebration.

GRANITE QUARRY — On a tour of the Old Stone House on Saturday, volunteer Theresa Pierce told guests how, in the 1700s, German immigrants and their families started celebrating Christmas on Christmas Day.

They kept celebrating through Epiphany on January 6. Thus, the “12 days of Christmas” we sing about.

On the fourth day of Christmas, the people of Rowan County and beyond turned out for the 29th annual Old Christmas Celebration at the Old Stone House.

The celebration continues today from noon to 4 p.m. at the historic home, located at

With holly sprigs and candles in its windows, the 1766 stone house had all the warmth of home.

Kaye Hirst, executive director of the Rowan Museum, said that each year she comes to the Christmas celebration, she meets first-time visitors.

“Many wish they hadn’t waited so long to come,” Hirst said. Wearing period costume, she sat in the kitchen of the Old Stone House as tour participants walked by.

As kids and adults strolled the grounds, volunteers demonstrated the traditions that would have been celebrated by the Braun family, who built the house, and other immigrant families in the area.

For example, Pierce said, sprigs of holly were put in the windows “to keep the witches out.”

“Witches were renowned for trying to wreak havoc on your celebrations,” Pierce continued, “and it was known that witches had to stop and count all the needles on the greenery.”

Outside, where campfires were set up to create a makeshift kitchen, a basket of holly sprigs waited for another Christmas tradition.

One takes a sprig of holly, green leaves and red berries, and burns it in the fire.

By doing so, “you are burning away all your troubles and maladies for the past year, and it also brings you good luck for the new year,” Pierce said.

Rosemary, another traditional Christmas herb, was in good supply not only for its sweet scent and flavor, but for its evergreen beauty.

Shortbread cookies flavored with rosemary were on hand for sampling, as were black walnut cookies, potato soup, hot apple cider and stollen, a traditional Christmas bread.

Hirst said that many local residents’ ancestors would have brought these foods and traditions with them from the Rhineland, in Germany.

Other traditional folkways were demonstrated, including spinning, weaving and candle-dipping.

“It was not an easy life,” Hirst said, “but they still took time to slow down and celebrate.”

Uta Braun, a longtime Rowan Museum guide who retired this year, still came out for the Christmas celebration.

Braun said the annual event is simple, but draws many people because of its simplicity.

“For a big portion of Rowan County, it has become a family tradition to come here,” Braun said.

Quite a few people also come from outside the county, including Jenna Crawford, who traveled from Asheboro with her aunt, Megan Carrouth, and others.

Carrouth, a teacher, plans to take what she’s learned about 18th century life back to her English classroom, where she said she can connect it to works such as “The Scarlet Letter.”

Ron Willis, of Davidson County, stood by as his grandson, Adam Willis, showed visitors how to shape wood with a draw knife on a shaving horse – both traditional carpentry tools.

The elder Willis explained how people would have used those tools to make furniture, shingles and any number of other items from wood.

“It’s a lot more interesting than people would have imagined, how resourceful early folk were,” Ron Willis said. “They had to be, there was no one else to turn to.”

As the Windsong Recorder Ensemble struck up Christmas carols in the front room, kids played outside – rolling hoops with sticks, sampling cookies while clusters of adults talked and swapped stories.

Standing near the outdoor kitchen fires, Hirst’s father, Benjamin Brown, stood with his cane and gestured toward the lawn.

“We used to have a reunion here, years and years ago,” said Brown, 91. He’s a sixth-generation descendant of the Braun family that built the Old Stone House.

Brown remembers how, when he was young, the Old Stone House was in disrepair.

But even then, it was a gathering place for special occasions.

Today, restored to near its original state, the holly and candles in the windows are still calling people home.

“I’ve been out here for Christmas every since they’ve been doing this, I suppose,” Brown said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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