Friday, January 6, 2017

Appalachian Traditions: Old Christmas

Did you know that Christmas used to be observed on January 6th? The date wasn't changed to December 25th until the late 1500s but those who were not Catholic continued celebrating Jesus' birth on the 6th until the mid 1700s.

The reason for the change had to do with a switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The switch caused a 12 day shift of Old Christmas (January 6th) to now fall on December 25th. 

"In the 170 years between the time the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the Catholic world and the time that it was finally adopted by Great Britain and her colonies, the New World was explored, colonies under British control were established on the eastern coast of America, and the southern Appalachian Mountains became settled by many of our ancestors. During this time, Great Britain and the American colonists still used the Julian calendar.

The pioneers of the southern Appalachian Mountains were a hardy lot and furiously independent. They wanted to live their lives in isolation, free of the intrusions of government. To be told by some far away government to change their calendar and the dates of their celebrations did not sit well with them. Many of them were less than enthusiastic about the new Gregorian calendar and were not willing to adopt all of it's changes. Christmas had long been celebrated on January 6th, a couple of weeks after the winter solstice, and many people were not willing to celebrate Christmas on an earlier date; many continued to celebrate Old Christmas 12 days after the December 25th celebration date set by the new calendar. Since Appalachia stayed relatively isolated over the years, this tradition held on long here after most of the country had forgotten it. But, even here, the celebration of Old Christmas has faded away until today only a few of us still acknowledge the January 6 celebration of Old Christmas. Unfortunately, many of today's young folks have never even heard of Old Christmas, letting alone, have celebrated it. In another generation or two, celebrating Old Christmas will be a thing of the past, and another old-time mountain tradition will have been completely forgotten" Source: The Mountain Eagle

I'm afraid I was one of those folks who hadn't heard of Old Christmas until I started reading some of the Foxfire books several years ago. I asked my Granny if she remembered any of her people celebrating it when she was growing up and she didn't. I have had some of you who follow this blog comment about Old Christmas. I was told that in some places, it is traditional to give gifts for each of the 12 days of Christmas and some wait until January 6th to celebrate when the Wise Men gave gifts to baby Jesus. 

I found this in A Foxfire Christmas: Appalachian Memories and Tradtions: "A lot of people celebrated both Christmas and Old Christmas - you know, the 12 days after December 25th. Some of the old people took all those days off for Christmas. Generally, everybody would get out and go places and stay with their friends and have a big time for 3 or 4 days." - Lawton Brooks 

I don't know about you but I wish Christmas was more like it was back then. Did you or anyone you know celebrate Old Christmas? What were your traditions? I'd love to hear from you. Happy Old Christmas!