But nowhere in America, I believe, are the 12 Days and Nights of Christmas more celebrated than in the Appalachian areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Here, families gather in the homes of their friends and neighbors on Christmas Day and commence a two-week party. There is food and drink and conversation and dancing to live music. The furniture is moved outside to make sure there's room for everyone and banjo and fiddle players are stationed in the doorways between rooms so that people in every room can hear it and have ample dancing space. The food, the drink, the conversation, the dancing, the music doesn't stop for two weeks straight--from Christmas Day to Little Christmas. The party may stay in one home, or, more often, they might pick the whole thing up after a time and move from house to house in their mountain neighborhood--possibly even a new home for each of the twelve nights. This celebration is called "Breaking Up Christmas". "Breaking Up Christmas" has been celebrated in this way in Appalachia for 150 years, at least. It's a tradition that arises out of economic conditions as much as religious practice. Christmas morning might bring a gift of an apple or an orange--not much more than that. But even those without much to give could give of their homes and their hearts and their talents for cooking or playing music. Naturally enough, the celebration has it's own song.
I'm not going to deluge you with videos of "Breaking Up Christmas" over the next week. But this one works for me. The Horse Flies are a group out of New York State. They began playing old-timey folk back in the late 70s. At some point in the 80s, the group began to "re-interpret" these traditional tunes, grafting on the influence and instrumentation of New Wave, Punk, and Grunge, and they began writing original music in that vein. The initial result was what, to this day, I consider one of the best Progressive Rock albums ever recorded--1987's "Human Fly". The album generated a good deal of national buzz and landed the Horse Flies a deal with MCA. In the late 90s, the group's bass player died and the band stopped performing as the Horse Flies. But, recently, they started up again, releasing "Until The Ocean" in 2008, which, to my happy ears, sounds more like the natural follow-up to "Human Fly" than did the MCA release "Gravity Dance". The Horse Flies version of "Breaking Up Christmas" does not appear on any official Horse Flies release, so far as I can determine (a 2004 live performance can be freely downloaded from The Internet Archive). It was included in a mixed-media presentation of the Corning Museum of Glass at their 2300 degrees Glass Harvest Event in 2007.
In the interests of full disclosure, I attended the wedding of Horse Flies' banjo player Rich Stearns, well before "Human Fly"; he and Jennie were close friends of a close friend and I've always loved their music (you can visit the lovely and talented Jennie Stearns at her web site). I even recall one very special impromptu house party/jam session we all had in New Jersey back in the day. It was a truly amazing time. With that as your caveat, I cannot recommend the music of The Horse Flies and the music of Jennie Stearns highly enough.