Celebrating Old Christmas
I love me some Christmas traditions! When I was a child, Christmas included decorating sugar cookies, singing lots of carols in the car, cutting a live tree and then watching Dad wrangle tangled lights, hanging our stockings above the fireplace, and Christmas Day with the cousins.
And in retrospect, ALL of that was better than anything Santa left under the tree.
Today, traditions include a small party of close friends, buying a live tree and stringing it with lights carefully stored from year to year (it IS possible to learn), homemade fudge, and the Christmas Eve service at church.
Of course, loving Christmas and my special traditions means that I’ve always had to fight those day after blahs. Suddenly, it’s all over and there’s nothing left to do but sweep up pine needles and pack the decorations away for another year.
Which may be why I loved learning about the Appalachian tradition of Old Christmas so much. I even mention the holiday in my November release, The Sound of Rain. I guess you could say it’s a sort of contrarian celebration of Christmas Day that’s fast fading away. But I’m hoping we can keep the memory alive another generation or two. And maybe even use it as an excuse to celebrate Christmas twice!
So here’s the scoop. Old Christmas is celebrated on January 6, which originally made me think it had something to do with Epiphany.
Even into the 20th century, some folks in the mountains still celebrated January 6 as Christmas Day. Why? Well, mostly out of pure stubbornness, which is a familiar character trait in the Appalachian Mountains.
It seems Julius Caesar used to organize the year around the moon–which never quite worked out. So he took the advice of his astronomers and changed over to a sun-based calendar that turned out to be a mere 11 minutes and some change off each year. The Julian calendar.
Eleven minutes—no big deal–right?
Well, by 1582, the calendar was a whopping 10 days off. So Pope Gregory XIII lopped off the extra minutes, turned the calendar back ten days, and instituted the more precise Gregorian calendar. Nice and tidy.
Except the Protestants pretty much ignored the new calendar set by, gasp, a Catholic. As a result, different parts of Europe were using different calendars. It might be February 11 in London, but February 1 in Paris.
So in 1751 a calendar act was passed to set things straight (the calendar now being off eleven days). It was decreed that September 2, 1752, would be followed by, of all things, September 14, 1752.
Just imagine how you would feel if I told you tomorrow is actually a week and a half into the future. It was practically time travel! There were riots. People thought the government had stolen eleven days of their lives.
And so, some people simply refused to go along. And they continued to celebrate Christmas on the same old day–which now happened to fall on January 6 for anyone who was paying attention to the Gregorian calendar.
The tradition was carried over to America, and in some parts of Appalachia and the South folks still remember celebrating Old Christmas.
As for Granny Jane and me . . . we don’t see any harm in celebrating both.
More about The Sound of Rain
Judd Markley is a hardworking coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother—and nearly his own life—in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.
Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more—maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there—until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company.
Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.
Sarah Loudin Thomas grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV, the seventh generation to live there. Her Christian fiction is set in West Virginia and celebrates the people, the land, and the heritage of Appalachia. Sarah and her husband Jim now live in the mountains of Western North Carolina with Thistle–the canine equivalent to a personal trainer pushing them to hike, run, and throw sticks. Sarah is active in her local church and enjoys cooking and–you guessed it–reading.