Appalachia Christmas

Old Christmas – Comments from Blind Pig Readers


Old Christmas

Today is Old Christmas. Last year I shared the definition of Old Christmas from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English and I especially enjoyed the comments left on the post from January 6, 2016. I thought I’d share a few of them with you today.

B. Ruth said:

Tipper, I had a friend who had a family up North….I think it was Pennsylvania that celebrated Old Christmas. Since school had already started back after the Christmas 25th holidays…Her family would go to their Grandmothers on or near January 6th. I always thought that she was so lucky that she got to have two Christmases. They celebrated the Epiphany, the night the Kings brought gifts to Jesus.. I remember my Aunt left her tree up until after Old Christmas. I always thought she just did it until all her nieces and nephews could make the visit to her house during the holidays…ha Yes, she left our little presents under the tree until we made it there…Later years, she mailed them if we couldn’t make it because of weather over the mountains. “Remember not to lend anything today, if you want or need it returned.” My Grandmother always said this during the Christmas holidays, not specifying the January 6th date…I wonder if she was just passing down folklore and couldn’t remember the exact date! I have read since that it is said to be true on Old Christmas.


Ron Stephens said:

If memory serves (and I trust it less as time goes by) I did hear Old Christmas spoken of, but rarely, when I was a boy over 50 years ago. But it was not with reference to having a celebration. I think it was about the legends or superstitions regarding it. I am intrigued by why the old Julian calendar should have such a persistent influence in Appalachia. (Assuming that it was unique in that respect.) There must be logical reasons for it. As someone who pokes around in genealogy (as opposed to being a real genealogist). I run into dates before 1752 being noted as “o s.” or ‘old style’. I think it is fair to say that traditionally Appalachian folks had a different approach to time. Times that mattered were seasons, daylight and dark and time to eat. Hours and minutes were generally un-important. Thoreau in “Walden” remarks how hours and minutes had become of great importance with the coming of the railroad. He said that ‘railroad time’ had become the latest fashion. We’ve seen it in our lifetimes. Life tends to move at the speed of communications and transportation. We feel the stress of ever-faster and look back with nostalgia at the simpler times.


Melissa P (misplaced southerner) said:

When I was a little girl, I heard of Old Christmas from my great-aunts and uncles. My parents’ generation never talked of it or celebrated it, but we did always leave our decorations up past January 6. My guess is that more than celebrating Old Christmas, is was easier to plan time to take everything down than around the party season.


Barb Wright said:

The Amish celebrate old Christmas. In fact, I went to the Amish bulk food store and the feed store where we shop yesterday, because I knew they would be closed today. I don’t know of anyone else that celebrates it. Maybe someone else does? Interesting anyhow!


I had never even heard of Old Christmas before I started the Blind Pig and The Acorn, so I certainly never knew anyone who celebrated the day.

Ron’s comment about the measure of time makes me wish all we had to worry about in today’s modern world were the seasons, daylight, dark, and when to eat.



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  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Old Christmas is a new on me.. Boy,, if the retail market gets a hold of this, they could figure out how to get folks to squeeze a little more out that pay check..

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    January 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I know a lady from Serbia and her church celebrates Christmas on Old Christmas. I know several East Europeans that celebrate their Christmas on this day with a church service and then family Christmas. Jan

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 6, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Has anyone else ever heard of the animals bowing at midnight on Old Christmas?

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Many Eastern Orthodox Christians (Serbian, Ukrainian, Russian) worship according to the Old Calendar. Today, January 6, is their Christmas Eve. The Greek Orthodox follow the New Calendar; we celebrated Christmas on December 25. You can wish someone Merry Christmas tomorrow if you know they are Old Calendar.

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Ron’s comment about the measurement of time reminded of working in Arizona. We tried in vain to have meetings with Anglos, Cocopah and Hispanics all together. The Anlgos would arrive within a 10 minute time slot around the scheduled time. (5 minutes before – 5 minutes after.) The Hispanics that didn’t feel they were a vital part would arrive 5 – 10 minutes late. Hispanics that felt they were vital would 30 minutes to an hour late. The Cocopah (Native Americans) came whenever the meeting fit in their priorities for the day. Sometimes 2-4 hours early or 2-4 hours late. We said for the Anglo time flies, for the Hispanic time walks and for the Natives minutes and hours were the white man’s idea and they had little use for them. They went by days and seasons.

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    As I heard tell, Epiphany (Kings Day/Old Christmas) is more about the Kings departing to “spread the news”, “go tell it on the mountain”, “go light the world”, “give hope to the world” – one king returning to the far east, one king returning to the western regions, one king returning to the southern areas which were the known world at that time. Their gifts were prophetic and they prompted the flight of the Christ family to Eqypt; but their main purpose was to spread the “tidings of great joy” which were and are great cause for celebration.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 6, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    My grandmother Cora Lee DeHart Breedlove was born 24 May 1899. She remembered when her family observed Old Christmas. She tried to explain it all to me but, of course, none of it sank in. Grammaw never really “celebrated” either Christmas. She held them in reverence but as far as modern style celebrations she wanted no part. She had 10 children and most of them, along with her multitude of grandchildren would visit around the Dec 25th holiday. Of course she allowed someone to decorate a bit and she cooked for her family (what Grammaw don’t?) but other that that she did not participate in all the revelry. Grammaw was my connection to the olden times and I let all her memories slip right through my fingers.
    I am like Miss Cindy. After I retired a couple of years ago, I took off my watch. I have worn it twice in those two years. The Company had a retirement party where I was supposed to be presented with a nice Seiko watch. I didn’t show up for the party and when someone contacted me by email I told them to give the watch to somebody else as I was no longer tied to their clock. In retrospect I should have taken the watch. If it was still in the box it probably would have fetched $30-$40 on ebay. It might be a little less if any engraving had to be ground off the back. Am I mean?

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    January 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

    The Orthodox Churches still use the old Julian calendar for their liturgical calendar, and their Christmas season starts today
    I think I posted last year that in her book ” Singing Family of the Cumberland” Jean Ritche the famed folks singer of Viper kentucky, writes of Christmas in her childhood. She mentions old Christmas, and how “new” traditions about Christmas came to them because an older sister worked at the post office, and heard new things. It’s a fine book, I hope some of you check it out.

  • Reply
    Sherry Case
    January 6, 2017 at 11:45 am

    My grandma was born in 1883 and lived in Hawkins Co. Tennessee. She would tell me about the animals praying on Old Christmas Eve (midnight). She said when she and her sisters were young, they would sneak out to the barn to watch. By the time I came along, there was no barn, nor animals, but it always intrigued my imagination to think about what a glorious sight that would have been!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 11:36 am

    I don’t observe Old Christmas, my folks never did either, and I don’t even wear a watch. I don’t let Time bother me, some of my friends say I’m laid back.
    I had a neighbor and friend from the thumb part of Michigan who left his Christmas Lights and stuff up till almost Valentine’s Day. Before he died, he told me many stories about life on the Great Lakes and his large family. He was a Catholic and him and another man built a Homeless Shelter in Murphy. The Radio Station announced this Shelter earlier this week. His name was Millard Hurlburt. (We called him Slim.)

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 6, 2017 at 10:56 am

    TIME… is non-sequential unless, of course, one needs more of it!
    To quote from Forrest Gump…
    “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!”
    I feel that TIME is like a box of chocolates, you never know how much time you have!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great post today and comments as well!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 10:04 am

    It’s always been “Little Christmas” to me, or the 12th Day of Christmas. Also the Feast of the Epiphany, and Three Kings Day. I always mark it in my mind, but – like most holidays, I’m beginning to realize – I don’t have any rituals associated with it.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    January 6, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Thank you for more insight about what old Christmas is! I’ve left my tree up because of sickness from myself so my mom told me about old Christmas. You know this was its not as stressful and that ugly word time where you’re running around like a chicken with his head cut off! Slow and steady and I can reflect on what ornaments are special to my family enjoy the real meaning of Christmas and about epiphany which is special within itself!
    Today in East Tennessee its snow in forecast and I may leave tree up until tomorrow or the next day or the next! Jesus is the light of the world and my candles and tree show light in a very hurry and get out of my way world!
    Thank you,
    Carol Rosenbalm

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 9:42 am

    “Old Christmas” is from “The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.”, a collection of 34 essays and short stories written serially under this pseudonym by Washington Irving, America’s first internationally-recognized man of letters, beginning in 1819. “Old Christmas” tells the charming story of how an English family celebrated the holiday in Bracebridge Hall, a fictional English manor house based on Aston Hall near Birmingham where Irving was a guest.
    “But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair of his good, gray, old head and beard left? Well, I will have that, seeing that I cannot have more of him.”
    Iving’s “Sketch-Book” inspired Clement C. Moore to write his beloved poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, for his children in 1822. He did not intend it to be published.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 6, 2017 at 9:35 am

    “Old time”–“railroad time” or “new time” (seconds, hours, minutes, days, weeks, months, years, decades–even centuries)–all pass in rapid fashion. I am reminded of the admonition about time in Ephesians 5:15-16: “See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” -Ephesians 5:17-18 NKJV). This sounds like “preaching,” I know, here in the early part of the new year; but time is precious. We need, indeed, to “make the most of time” and fill our time with that which is good and worthwhile, deeds beneficial to others and ourselves.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 6, 2017 at 9:28 am

    2nd post- At this web address:
    is a short and straightforward explaination of the 12 days of Christmas.
    Ties in nicely with Mr. Casada’s comment and reveals that I was way off base. Glad I get it now.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 6, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Well, I was doing some reading last night about the history of Orange County, VA and there was a discusiion of the calendar switch. To be clearer, the old style year ran from April to March. So I don’t see what relationship that has to 12 days of Christmas. I am going to have to do some digging.
    I think the difference in viewing time was the result of the shift from subsistence farming to ‘public’ works. As a self-employed farmer, seasonal times were the driver; plowing, seeding when the ground was warm enough, laying by, harvest, etc. But when one works for someone else, one is servant to their timing and their determination to get their money’s worth of labor. Similarly, means of travel; steamboat, stage, train had schedules that ran on hours at least if not hours and minutes. The more interaction one had with the wider world, the more important time became which meant owning a watch and then being tied up as Miss Cindy says.
    Where I grew up in southeastern KY there was stamboat travel from about 1830 and the train came through in 1873. So long as nobody had business with them they could continue to live the old way.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 6, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I too remember Old Christmas spoken of but never celebrated. Seems like there were other dates designated as ‘old.’

  • Reply
    January 6, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I was not familiar with “old christmas” until I worked with some people from the NC outer banks. They celebrate the day with parties, oyster roasts, dances, etc. They also have a tradition that the ghost of “old buck” appears on that day. He is a white feral bull that was said to roam the “banks”. Old Buck apparently is based some old myth originating in England. The outer banks were settled by english fisherman and a lot of them still speak with a distinct accent and local patois. (Hoi toiders).

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    January 6, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Tipper: That fellow, Mr. Stephens, has it ‘down pat’ about about mountain folks having a different approach to TIME! I might add, “Those folks have a different TAKE on a lot of things – and most of the time it is the right take!
    Hope your day is sunny!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 6, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Tipper–An interesting sidelight to Old Christmas, which was associated with the Julian calendar, is that when the British parliament passed the Calendar Act in 1750 and then implemented it in the next few years, it led to riots in London and elsewhere. Many common folks mistakenly thought that the change in calendars meant taking away a number of days in their lives and they were protesting “Give us back our days.”
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 6, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Tip, I am also intrigued by Ron’s comments. The idea of time measured in seasons, daylight and dark, and time to eat appeals to me. Several years ago I quit wearing a watch. It was my little rebellion against being tied (around my wrist) to time. It was something of an experiment for me and I found that I managed just fine without being tied to time. LOL!
    Perhaps I’ll do some research on old time.

  • Reply
    Gwen Trivett
    January 6, 2017 at 7:46 am

    My Granny was born in the mountains of Tennessee on January 6, 1914. She lived to be 101, and always told us she was born on Old Christmas. I don’t think her family celebrated Old Christmas in any way, but they knew what it was. She’s the only one I ever heard of that talked about it.

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