Doing research for my novels often digs up the most intriguing bits of information. While looking into Appalachian Christmas traditions for what I hope will be my fourth novel, I ran across a reference to “Old Christmas.” It’s celebrated on January 6, so I assumed it had something to do with Epiphany.
A few generations ago, some folks in the mountains still celebrated January 6 as Christmas Day. Why? Well, mostly out of pure stubbornness which is a quality I’m well familiar with.
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.
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 Gregorian calendar.
Except the Protestants pretty much ignored the new calendar set by, gasp, a Catholic, so 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 right (the calendar now being off eleven days). 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 January 12, 2016. 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 folks still remember celebrating Old Christmas. If you want to read a firsthand account, check out this post at Appalachian Heart Wood.