Every state has its own traditions, and Kentucky has some time-honored and/or crazy traditions of our own. Most of these are common-place to you and I, but to out of state folks, we might as well be dancing naked in the woods. Not all our practices cause visitors to stare off blankly. Some people even bask in our ways during certain times of the year.
Growing up in the country, one of the things we looked forward to were the hay rides. These are simple wagons full of hay that are pulled by multiple horses or a tractor. Riders would just sit and socialize in the hay, sometimes sipping drinks or eating snacks while rolling around and taking in the scenery.
11. Kentucky sipping medicine
In the case of a mild sore throat, elders would take two shots of bourbon, about 3 heaping tablespoons of local honey and 1.5 tablespoons of lemon and warm it till the honey is dissolved. If you need more spice, add a half shake of ground red pepper before heating. Stir it consistently, and it is of the utmost importance not to overheat. When it was ready, they would simply sit, covered comfortably in a chair, and sip any discomfort away.
There is a church (or 50) in every Kentucky town. Most of us have attended at some point or another. From our road side signs to our steeples, you can tell that religion is a popular tradition here, even for those that only attend on holidays and special functions.
9. Mint Julep
Mint and Kentucky Bourbon combine into a Kentucky Derby drink that is drank somewhat religiously around race festival time. It is said that Helena Modjeska had one at a pre Derby breakfast in the 1930s and loved it, instantly springing the Julep into a popular drink. Personally, I'm not a fan.
8. Foppish Derby hats
The Kentucky Derby was the U.S. version of a horse race from England, and hats can be important to the English at festivities. Thus, the tradition of dressing in your best for the renowned 30-second race became a tradition for the ladies. Notoriety comes with the hat, and those wearing the most provocative cranium styles are usually memorialized by the media.
7. Black eye peas and cabbage
Growing up, Momma always cooked black eyed peas, cornbread and cabbage for New Year. She said it brought good luck or extra money for the 365 days that followed. My husband is not fond of either dish, but I tend to convince him to eat at least one bite every year.
A craft can be anything from sewing to pottery to wood carving. Some people do crafts for fun. Others prefer to make their own things instead of shopping, when possible. My Papaw would whittle all my Granny’s wooden spoons. My Mom still has some of them today, more than 100 years after they were made. They are a treasured memory of an age old tradition.
5. Hot cocoa or warm vanilla
Milk is our state drink, according to KRS 2.084, and most of us like cocoa or vanilla. My parents always made cocoa or warm vanilla on the stove with fresh milk, unsweetened cocoa or vanilla flavoring and sugar or honey. They’d heat it up till everything dissolved, and pour it in a mug. Occasionally we’d add tiny colored marshmallows, or a peppermint pinwheel. It was something to look forward too after being in the cold doing chores or horsing around. Those who want a more adult version can add bourbon cream.
I can remember my Dad and a friend playing guitar, harp and banjo when I was a child. Most everyone I know either plays music, or is married to someone who does, or has. The phrase, “pickin and grinning” is quite a good description of a lot of Kentucky families.
3. Quilt making
Quilts were made all across the state, especially the Appalachians. Quilts or the art of quilt making is passed down from generations. Our ancestors made quilts out of the scraps of materials they could find or barter for. These warm mismatched bunches of material provide warmth and the love they were made with. You know it’s a tradition when we have a Kentucky Quilt Museum.
2. Watching U of K versus U of L games
When these games are on, nothing else in the world matters for some sports fans. I’ve heard stories of guys watching the game while their child was born… No joke. The Cardinals and the Wildcats playing against one another is the “do not miss it”, game for sports fans. Even those that never watch sports occasionally watch these two teams play.
1. The roses
The Kentucky Derby is also coined “Run for the Roses”, since the early 1900s. The reasoning was the beautiful blanket of roses that is put on the Derby winner each year. The roses are a specific species that has been maintained since before 1870. They have kept these blooms completely pure of any other pollination specifically for the Kentucky Derby each year.
In my thoughts, all these things are common, but it probably varies according to the area of the state one lives in or frequents. Eastern, western, northern, southern and central Kentucky each have a unique way of living, but we share a common good will and a “take it easy” nature. These are just a few of the traditions I noticed growing up. What traditions do you celebrate in Kentucky?