Monday, December 24, 2012

The Christmas Flounder

If there's a time of year when traditions are more important than Yuletide, I can't think of it. So I always think of my colleagues in the editorial department of the Wilmington Star-News years ago when each year they re-published a lovely little piece on an old tidewater tradition at Christmas: The Christmas Flounder.

We -- well, Mary Schulken and I -- liked it so much at the Charlotte Observer that we published it several times -- until Ed Williams, the editorial page editor and normally a merry old gent, put his foot down and made us find something else to write about. My friend Lew Powell once suggested I write about some equally fascinating -- and improbable -- tradition as the Flounder.  I gave it a go, trying on the Christmas Badger, the Christmas Racoon, the Christmas Rabbit, but nothing worked.

So here it is.  Grab a glass of egg nog, get the saltshaker and take out one grain, and enjoy:

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the sound
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a flound(r).
– Anonymous
If there is an old-timer in your house today, he probably is not reminiscing about the grand old tradition of The Christmas Flounder. It is practically forgotten.
The Christmas Flounder is a Yuletide custom unknown outside Southeastern North Carolina, according to Paul Jennewein, the veteran newsman who is the world's only authority on the matter.

As is the case with many traditions, the origin of The Christmas Flounder is obscured in the mists of memory, but according to Mr. Jennewein it apparently began during the Great Depression, when people in this area were even poorer than usual.

Buying and stuffing a turkey for Christmas dinner was out of the question for many. Something else was needed, something that poor folks could procure in the days before food stamps. And so it came about that one Christmas Eve in the reign of Franklin the King of Four Terms, the merry glow of kerosene lanterns and - for those who could afford the Ray-O-Vacs - flashlights gleamed over the waters of the sound.

Westward wading, still proceeding, went wise men who knew that dull-witted fishes would be sleeping in the mud at that time of night. Suddenly the sharp splash of steely gigs shattered the starry stillness.

Next day, the unfortunate flounders, lovingly stuffed with native delicacies such as oysters, crabs, collards and grits, graced Christmas tables all over the area. Non-Baptists who knew a reliable bootlegger accompanied the humble dish with a jelly glass of high-octane cheer.

It was a tradition born of hardship, but it is unique and deserves to be remembered as part of the folklore of the Lower Cape Fear.

Merry Christmas!!

Read more here:

(Reprinted every Christmas Eve in an effort to keep this grand tradition alive.)

1 comment:

  1. I think that sounds great! Flounder gigging in December could prove dangerous. Remember, there is always the old Mutt Burton Christmas Story!......which the News and Record seems to have misplaced, along with a lot of other traditions!