On one fine evening, in which winter’s chill hung in the air and the stars sparkled merrily in the heavens above, a happy song of the season could be heard faintly weaving it’s way through the trees and rolling hills surrounding the humble home of Uncle Remus.
“Ho my Riley, in this happy Christmas time, the black folks shake their clothes, a hunting for a dime. Hi my rinktum! And then they shake their feet, and grease der se’f with the good ham meat. Ho my Riley! They eat and they cram, And by-and-by old Miss will be a’sending out the dram!”
Meanwhile, through the golden glowing windows of the old man’s house, a bright scene of warmth and cheer could be seen. Along with a number of good folks from the surrounding farm, chief among them was the kindly Uncle Remus, who sat next to the crackling fire with Miss Sally’s little boy on his knee.
As the song came to an end with clapping and laughter, Uncle Remus turned to the boy upon his lap and asked with a sparkling smile, “Honey, now did I ever tell you about the time Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox met old Saint Nicholas himself?”
The young lad looked at Uncle Remus with wonder in his eyes, and shook his head from side-to-side with a smile.
“Oh Lawdy!” Uncle Remus exclaimed in mock-surprise. “Well, I best not be keeping such a wondrous story from all these here ears, ‘specially on such a night as this!”
After a brief drink from the the Christmas Toddy, Uncle Remus then launched into his tale with gusto. “It was on a night just like this here, with Brer Rabbit and his young’uns all snug and warm in bed. But then wouldn’t you know it when along comes Brer Rabbit’s old woman, who says that they ain’t got nothing for Christmas Dinner tomorrow.”
“Hoo boy! Brer Rabbit, he jumps to his feet right away and runs right down the road to see if he can fetch himself something from Miss Cow or Mr. Possum. It was when he was a-hustling lickety-split that by-and-by he smells the most delightful smell blowing over the breeze.”
“Oh, Land of Goshen, that does smell mighty fine!” Brer Rabbit says to himself, and begins to sniff his way across the hills in following that most wondrous scent.
By-and-by, Brer Rabbit finds himself at the doorstep of Brer Fox, and spies through the window a plump turkey sitting on the table. But lo and behold, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and even Brer Bear are all gathered around the fire laughing and swapping stories, no doubt working up a big appetite for that marvelous bird.
Brer Rabbit licks his lips and thinks to himself just how good that turkey would be on his own table for Christmas dinner, but how can he have it without creating a ruckus?
So the crafty rascal that he is, Brer Rabbit soon has an idea and scampers his way back home. Raiding his old woman’s closet for her fine red Sunday-go-to-meetin’ coat and a long red sleeping cap, he then gathers up some grass, and stuffs it under his shirt for a big round belly. Putting the red coat and sleeping cap on, Brer Rabbit then runs quickly over to Farmer John’s sheep pen. Grabbing a bit of wool caught along the fence, Brer Rabbit places it about his face in a beard-like fashion, and hurries back to Brer Fox’s house.
“Ho, ho, ho!” Brer Rabbit announces in a loud deep voice, knocking on Brer Fox’s door. “It is I, Saint Nicholas!”
Instantly inside the house of Brer Fox, the hooting and hollering of the party becomes dead still, with only the sounds of Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear whispering worriedly at each other. But after a few moments, Brer Fox sure enough opens the door, with Brer Wolf and Brer Bear peeping over his shoulder.
“Well bless my soul, it IS Santy Claus!” Brer Fox exclaims. “Come in, come in! We were just about to gobble our Christmas feast!”
“Oh goodness no,” Brer Rabbit in his Santa get-up says. “I have little time for merry-making tonight, with so many boys and girls to deliver gifts for.”
“But then Santy, where’s your bag of gifts?” Brer Fox asks.
“Never you mind that.” Brer Rabbit Santa says, shaking his finger. “Because I didn’t bring it to such a wicked house as this one.”
Instantly the faces of Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear fell into powerful sadness.
“Now, you all have been mighty mean to Brer Rabbit this past year,” Brer Rabbit Santa said with an added quiver in his voice. “And I shore do think the only way you might get a gift from this here old Santy, is if you folks share some of that marvelous turkey with Brer Rabbit’s family.”
From beneath his wooly beard, well Brer Rabbit just about could hardly keep from laughing, and had to turn for a moment to hide his mirth.
“Yes kind sir, oh yes! We shall do that right away!” Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear all agreed, nodding solemnly.
“Well then, that is good to hear. I will surely see later if you gos and does as you have said.” Brer Rabbit Santa said. “Now I must skee-daddle! Fare-the-well!”
Brer Rabbit Santa then turned and scurried behind Brer Fox’s house, and disappeared into the bushes so fast that he might as well have been a ghost!
“Well now honey”, Uncle Remus said to Miss Sally’s boy, “Wouldn’t you know but later that night Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear came a-knocking at Brer Rabbit’s front door with that prize turkey in hand. And what happened next was as powerful surprising as that day when Moses parted the waters!”
“Dear Brer Rabbit, our friend. We are sorry for any pains we have given you and your family this year.” Brer Fox said, twisting his hat in his hands. “Please take this turkey and tell dear old Santy that we have done this good thing for you.”
Uncle Remus then paused dramatically, his eyes roving over his audience and then back to Miss Sally’s little boy. “And at that moment,” he whispered, “Wouldn’t you know but the real Saint Nicholas appears along the road with his wagon full of gifts!”
Upon the shocked gasp from the boy, Uncle Remus let out a deep belly laugh, and then continued with his story.
“So there stands Brer Fox, Brer Bear, Brer Wolf and Brer Rabbit with their jaws just about to hit the ground.”
“Well, well, well!” Santy Clause says from his wagon with a big-some, happy smile on his face. “I hear tell that you folks have been up to your old tricks!”
“Oh, Mr. Nicholas,” Brer Rabbit says, quickly shoving the turkey back into the hands of Brer Fox. “I expect I shall get no gifts from you this year, but please sir do give them to my young’uns and…and to Brer Fox, Brer Bear and Brer Wolf.” He says.
“Well Brer Rabbit, that is right charitable of you, and I knows the Lord smiles at that. But there’s no need, no need at all,” the jolly man says, coming down from his wagon with plenty of gifts for all in his big red bag. “Come, let us all be happy and put aside our differences for this night.”
“So sure enough, that is what they did. At least for one night child!” Uncle Remus chuckled to Miss Sally’s little boy, patting him on the head. “Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, Brer Wolf, Brer Bear, and all the young childrens and their old women came out to have a grand party with Santa Clause. Turkey, pecans, dried peaches, cake, ash-roasted taters, and a big pitcher full of whiskey. Mmm-hmmm! And that honey, is how Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit met Saint Nicholas and had their first Christmas!”
Note: The above is not an actual tale of Uncle Remus, but a modern story set in the wonderfully rich “world” of Uncle Remus. And while Uncle Remus would not have likely known of Santa Claus, he certainly would have been familiar with Christmas, as noted by the 1938 interview of Georgia Baker below. Also of note, the song that appeared above is an actual Christmas song from Uncle Remus, updated slightly for audiences today.
Interview with Georgia Baker
Athens, Georgia – August 4, 1938
Slave Narratives – Volume IV, Georgia Narratives, Part 1 (Prepared by the Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Georgia)
“Christmas Day! Oh what a time us <black folks> did have dat day! Marse Lordnorth and Marse Alec gave us evvy-thing you could name to eat: cake of all kinds, fresh meat, light bread, turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, and all kinds of wild game. Dare was allus plenty of pecans, apples, and dried peaches too at Christmas. Marse Alec had some trees what had fruit dat looked lak bananas on ‘em, but I done forgot what was de name of dem trees. Marse Alec would call de grown folkses to de big house early in de morning’ and pass around a big pewter pitcher full of whiskey, den he would put a little whiskey in that same pitcher and and fill it wid sweetened water and give dat to us chillun. We call dat ‘toddy’ or ‘dram’. Marse Alex allus had plenty of good whiskey, cause Uncle Willis made it up for him and it was made jus’ right. De night after Christmas Day we pulled syrup candy, drunk more liquor, and danced. Us had a big time for a whole week and den on New Year’s Day us done a little wuk jus’ to start de year right and us feasted dat day on fresh meat, plenty of cake, and whiskey. Dere was allus a big pile of ash-roasted taters on hand to go wid dis good old baked meat. Us allus tried to raise enough ‘taters to last all through de winter ‘cause <black folks> sho does love dem sweet ‘taters. No mam, us never knowed nothin’ ‘bout Santa Claus ‘till after de war.”