We’ve rung in the new year and Christmas is over . . . or is it? I’ve written before about Old Christmas–the mountain tradition of celebrating the holiday on January 6 due to some calendar confusion dating back hundreds of years. But there’s also an Appalachian tradition called “Breakin’ Up Christmas” that only goes back a hundred years or so.
It allegedly originated in southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina (Galax and Mt. Airy)–not too far from where I am now as the crow flies. The idea was to extend Christmas over the time from Christmas Day to Epiphany (Old Christmas). That way, folks could “break up” the fun of Christmas and make it last a long time.
I suspect this was the result of several factors–long cold days that needed cheering, down time on the farm well after the harvest and well before spring planting (even the hog-killing was done), and a good old-fashioned fondness for whooping it up!
Traditionally, breaking up Christmas was a sort of moving celebration that would shift to a different house each day (night!). There’d be food, music, and dancing that lasted well after midnight. Sounds fun but exhausting!
There are (of course!) variations on the lyrics. Here’s one version:
Hooray Jake, hooray John
Breakin’ up Christmas all night long.
Way back yonder, long time ago
The old folks danced the doesey-doe.
Way down yonder alongside the creek
I seen Santa Claus washing his feet.
Santa Claus come, done and gone
Breaking up Christmas right along.
So, if you don’t want to turn loose of Christmas just yet, feel free to break it up for a few more days!