Appalachia Christmas

Old Christmas

January 6 is old christmas

Entry for old Christmas from the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English:

old Christmas noun An alternative observance of Christmas, celebrated in the 20th century usu on January 6 and reflecting the date of the holiday according to the Julian (or Old Style) calendar. The more precise Georgian (New Style) calendar was adopted in continental Europe (esp in Catholic countries) in 1582, but not until 1752 in Britain, where the populace continued to observe Christmas according to the older calendar and associated the day with such miraculous events as the kneeling of livestock at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve and the sudden blooming of flowers. The observance was brought by early settlers to the mountains. In some places in southern Appalachia the belief that the day was the true, sacred Christmas persisted well into the 20th century. The observance has no connection with Twelfth Night or Epiphany. (For discussion, see Chester Raymond Young, “The observance of old Christmas in southern Appalachia” in An Appalachian Symposium, ed. J.W. Williamson, 1977). See esp 1944, 1970 citations.

1895 Edson and Fairchild Tenn Mts 373 = January 6th. (The day is remembered by those who never heard of Twelfth Night or Epiphany.) 1905 Miles Spirit of Mts 107 But he and Arth do not disagree about certain weather signs their mother had taught them when they were “shirt-tail boys,” signs about Groundhog Day, for example, and the Ruling Days, the twelve days from the twenty-fifth of December to Old Christmas, each of which rules the weather of a month of the coming year. c1940 Newport (TN) Plain Citizen Don’t carry ashes out between Christmas and Old Christmas. In recent times, as Old Christmas becomes only a historical curiosity, it is sometimes supposed to have been an observance of Epiphany, but this is quite erroneous. 1942 Thomas Blue Ridge 159-59 [T]here are people who may never have heard of the Gregorian or Julian calendar, yet in keeping Old Christmas as they do on January 6th, they cling unwittingly to the Julian calendar of 46 B.C., introduced in this country in the earliest years. To them December 25th is New Christmas, according to the Gregorian calendar adopted in 1752. They celebrate the two occasions in a very different way. The old with prayer and carol-singing the new with gaiety and feasting. 1944 Combs Word-list Sthn High 20 = January 6. Still observed here and there in spite of the changes which took place with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. On the event of Old Christmas, at midnight, the elder is said to blossom, cows to kneel in prayer, and the cock to crow all night. 1970 Adams Appal Revist 46 One of the most beautiful superstitions was in connection with the celebration of “Old Christmas” which occurs on January 6, the date on which Christmas occurred in early England before the calendar change in the 18th century to December 25. The folk believed that on the eve, of Old Christmas, the elderberry bushes shot out their blossoms and that at midnight the cattle would kneel down in their stalls to pay homage to the Baby Jesus who had been born in a stable.

——————

I’ve only read about Old Christmas, I’ve never known anyone who celebrated it. Have you?

Tipper

You Might Also Like

24 Comments

  • Reply
    JoAnn M Donald
    January 24, 2016 at 11:37 am

    We never took our tree and decorations down until after “Old Christmas” either in North Carolina. I have carried on that tradition most years in my home.

  • Reply
    BarbaraLunsford Davis
    January 7, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I love the post of Hazel Carr,what a great idea!May celebrate “old Christmas” next year.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    January 6, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Never heard of it and never heard of anyone celebrating it.
    Very interesting though.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Tipper,
    I was out running some errands today just before 2:00 and heard Pap and his brother Ray singing something on the radio. Then they played Chitter and Chatter’s “Cradle of Love.” As my daddy use to call it “Fox and Hound” singing.
    When we were young, my brother and I use to sing like that in Churches all around. And one time at Red Marble, my brother wouldn’t sing, so I did it by myself. Soon as I finished, the Preacher handed me his big ole hat and I collected over $32.00. I halfed it with my brother and he never was bashful to get up in front of a big crowd again…Ken

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    January 6, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Never knew about old Christmas until now except about the animals kneeling in the barn at midnight. They talked about the animals kneeling on The Waltons, Homecoming movie (one of our favorites and we watch it every year at Christmas time). If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you would love it!
    Pam
    scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I have heard of Old Christmas in the academic sense. My parents would keep the tree up until after January 6…a practice we still do up here in Cleveland. I just called my Dad and he said he didn’t know why we waited and that it was a “German thing.” I sent him the blog and his reply, “well, I’ll be.” Tipper, we learn something from you everyday. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Tipper,
    I don’t know anything about Old Christmas, but my neighbor and friend M.J. Hurlbert from the thumb part of Michigan musta observed it. He had 10 girls and a dud, (the last one was a boy). Mr. Hurlbert left his decorations up till January was over, and when his daughters came down to visit, some came over and told me stories about living in Michigan and their daddy working on the Great Lakes. He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known and he told me stories of his childhood, how the Nuns corrected him as a boy.
    Thanks for the readings of Old Christmas…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

    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.
    I love the picture of the Santa with the blue coat…A blue coat on Santa is special…those are not “switches” he is holding as some would think…It is an old-fashioned whisk broom for sweeping the snow off of the boots, before entering each doorway!
    Thanks Tipper, loved this post!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 6, 2016 at 9:43 am

    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 intriqued 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.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    January 6, 2016 at 9:41 am

    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. Mine are still up today, and they will eventually come down this weekend.

  • Reply
    dolores
    January 6, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I have a vague memory of a girl I went to elementary school with back in the early fifties stating that her family celebrated Christmas on Jan. 6. Many of us in the Catholic school wondered about this custom, but we never questioned her. I do remember many people keeping their trees until that date and the placement of the three kings. Thanks for the information; it helped with the curiosity I had and maybe still have about ‘old Christmas.’

  • Reply
    Magda
    January 6, 2016 at 9:05 am

    There was this superstition about keeping the tree up till “old Christmas” and remarks about the weather predictions in my Mom’s family for generations. I always wondered if it was the same as “little Christmas” where there is one little gift under the tree and when we also put the three kings out by the manger set.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    January 6, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Tipper, my mom always talks about old Christmas but she didn’t really know where the name came from. When my girls still lived at home I’d always wait until after old Christmas to take my tree down. Not this year 65-70 degrees was too much!
    Thanks Tipper!
    Carol

  • Reply
    Charline
    January 6, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Thank you for revisiting ‘Old Christmas’. It is SO interesting and must have been quite an adjustment to have changed the calendar in those days. I’ve wondered if that’s why so many traditions and images have to do with snow and cold, as January is usually colder in the northern hemisphere, than what is now December.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    January 6, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Mom talked about her Granny telling stories of watching cattle kneel at midnight on Old Christmas. She never said anything about roosters crowing or elderberry blooming. Who knows how the observance started, but the sightings must have been seen by more than one person.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 6, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I have only heard of Old Christmas, but hear often that decorations should be left up until the 7th.
    Hazel, what a great concept, we should try moving Christmas back.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 6, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I have only heard of Old Christmas, but hear often that decorations should be left up until the 7th.
    Hazel, what a great concept, we should try moving Christmas back.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 6, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I have only heard of Old Christmas, but hear often that decorations should be left up until the 7th.
    Hazel, what a great concept, we should try moving Christmas back.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 6, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I have only heard of Old Christmas, but hear often that decorations should be left up until the 7th.
    Hazel, what a great concept, we should try moving Christmas back.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 6, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Not familiar with that Tipper. It is interesting how traditions change, move, and evolve over time.

  • Reply
    Carolyn Hunt
    January 6, 2016 at 8:11 am

    I have only read about Old Christmas.

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    January 6, 2016 at 8:02 am

    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!

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    January 6, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Tipper: Like you, we have only heard about the ‘Old Christmas’ celebration. In the Cove our celebration was very simple with not much TO DO!
    Hope your NEW YEAR is going just fine!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Hazel R. Carr
    January 6, 2016 at 7:24 am

    I had a friend whose family celebrated both. She got a few gifts on Dec. 25, but her main “\Santa gifts” came on Jan. 6th – Old Christmas” as she called it. Now, as an adult, I’ve often wondered if their family did that so they could get special gifts on sale ‘after Christmas’.

  • Leave a Reply