Monday, December 16, 2013
What Ever Happened to "OLD CHRISTMAS"?
When my siblings and I were children, like most children of the 1950's and 60's we could not wait for December 25th to roll around. Every year we would get the "wish books" i.e. the Sears or J.C. Penny catalogs and we would pour through them wishing and dreaming about what Santa would bring us. When we became too anxious waiting my parents would always say, "You need to be glad that we are not celebrating Old Christmas like your Grand folks did! You would have to wait another two weeks!!"
Old Christmas Day was January 6th and though I grew up hearing about it, we still were able to celebrate Christmas early on December 25th. January 6th was called 12th day of Christmas or Epiphany and January 5th was called 12th night.
In the mountains some people celebrated Christmas according to the old Julian calendar. It came to the mountains with the English settlers and made their Yule time Christmas Eve, January 5th with Christmas Day January 6th. Even after 1752 when England officially adopted the Gregorian calendar my ancestors still celebrated January 6th as Christmas.
It was not celebrated like we do new Christmas. My mother said when she was little they still celebrated January 6th as Christmas at her Uncles on the farm. It wasn't until the family moved to town that they switched the dates. She said they had a dance on Christmas Eve and they did not have a Christmas tree. Just a stocking left near your bed. She said the first Christmas tree she ever saw was in the late 1930's. Her father had brought one home for one of her younger siblings. At midnight on Old Christmas Eve they would light firecrackers or fire their guns in the air and would do the same on New Years.
There were a lot of old tales and beliefs that went with old Christmas in Appalachia. My mother told me that it was believed that to have good luck you didn't carry your ashes out of the house from New Christmas, December 25th to Old Christmas January 6th. Kind of as a carry over of that belief I think, at my house when we did have a Christmas Tree, momma would usually have it decorated Christmas Eve and would not take it down until after New Years because she thought it bad luck.
It's kind of strange today that folks will start their Christmas SO EARLY!! TOO EARLY for me. I had a friend that would put her tree up right after Halloween and take the tree down December 25th.
They also believed that at the stroke of midnight Christmas Eve sometimes miracles happened. Things like elder trees blooming, cows and animals kneeling in prayer and roosters crowing all night. I stayed up once when I was little to see if these would happen on January 6th....I swear I heard a rooster crow but never saw any of the other things. I just remember being very sleepy in school the next day.
When I was pregnant with my eldest child, her due date was December 26. My mother prayed she would be born just a bit early on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. She came to stay with me and wait. December 25 came and went and then January 1st came and went. My daughter waited to pop into this world until January 6th. My mother said she should have been more specific in her prayers and prayed to be New Christmas, not Old Christmas.
We celebrate Christmas on December 25th and Old Christmas is a thing of the past. But.......I think this year I might go outside on January 5th about midnight and see if any miracles happen or what I can hear. Even if I don't see or hear anything, I have the Old Christmas blessing of my daughter every year. Miracles do happen.
I am the Appalachian Heart Wood Blogger. I am interested in saving the history of our Appalachian region as well as our placement into the future. I am a 9th generation Appalachian woman on my father's side and 11th generation on my mother's side. One grandfather is recorded in these mountains in the English records in 1753. We have been here a long, long time. Our language, our culture is celebrated yet changing. My blog called Appalachian Heart Wood is where I will expound my take on all this change and how our roots run deep in Appalachian history and culture.. I might also from time to time expound on the politics of the day in Virginia. Follow me on Twitter @AppalHeartwood