Saturday, January 6, 2018

Old Christmas January 6 2018

The Old Christmas on January 6

Do you remember the Old Christmas, back when Christmas came on January 6?  Old Christmas is not the Twelfth Night or Epiphany.  It is Christmas Day as reckoned on the Julian calendar.   In 1752 the English Crown adopted the Gregorian calendar.  The switch over to the new calendar was not immediate and for years many people in the Anglo-Celtic world preferred using the Julian calendar.   Gradually, the Gregorian calendar became the norm, but, some people in rural areas, in the Upland South and Backsettlements, continued to record time according to the older Julian calendar.  For them the Yule Holiday came on January 6. 
My own grandmother, Sarah Peal McCain née Tweedy, practiced the custom of Old Christmas. I have childhood memories of the Old Christmas at her house.  Like many in her generation, the new Christmas was celebrated, but they were also aware of the Old Christmas, and celebrated it also. By her generation, some of the New Christmas customs became incorporated into the Old Christmas, but there was still an element of the Old Christmas and Yule around. 

It was among the Anglo-Celtic early settlers that Old Christmas held on.  These people were of English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and Scots-Irish origins.  My grandmother was Scots-Irish and came from County Cavan, in Ulster.  Her family left Ireland early, circa 1700, and followed the frontier.  They were in the Carolina Uplands in the mid-1700s and then to the hills and ridge country of southern Illinois by 1805.  That area today is known as the Illinois Ozarks.  The region was settled primarily by Anglo-Celtic Scots-Irish and the people and their culture expanded into the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks.  It was here in the Ozarks, much like in Appalachia, that old customs and folkways endured for well over a century.  These customs and folkways, like Old Christmas, are still remembered.

The Old Christmas was before there was a Christmas Tree or Santa Claus. Those are New Christmas December 25th customs from the late 1800s.  The Old Christmas predates them in time and custom.  With the Old Christmas houses were decorated with boughs of holly and evergreen and this was when Father Christmas, or Lord Christmas, held his court.  Father Christmas brought cheer and merriment, not presents.  Father Christmas was dressed in a green robe and wore a holly wreath around his head. He had a long white beard and black staff with a crozier.   Carols were sung and the emphasis was on food, drink, dance, merriment, and the Christian faith, albeit with a Dual Faith element of pre Christian Yule.

Yule was the term many Anglo-Celtic settlers in early America used for the Holiday Season. Yule was the Lallans  (an English dialect spoken in parts of southern Scotland and Ulster) word for Christmas. The word Yule goes back to the Old English word Geol and the Norse word Jól and was the pre Christian term for the twelve days of winter celebration after the Winter solstice and ending on or near what is now January 6.   The celebration was incorporated into Christmas and Yule and Christmas became the same thing, and celebrated on January 6. 
The use of the Julian Calendar persisted even after the official change to the Gregorian calendar.  The Old New Year was on March 25.  Slowly however, the New Year was marked on January 1, making the dating of events confusing.  As historians and family history researchers know, any dates prior to the Gregorian calendar’s use are often broken down into Old Style (Julian dating) and New Style (Gregorian dating).  Clerks for many years after the calendar change had to abbreviate OS or NS to clarify a date on a record. 

the Southern Uplands

The Old Christmas is still with us, not entirely forgotten.  Some people still use the Old Christmas and some will celebrate both December 25 and January 6.  The Old Christmas is also celebrated widely in Easter Europe, as the Julian Calendar is still used in liturgical matters.  Because of slight changes in the Julian Calendar this date falls on January 7.   Many millions of Europeans still use the Old Christmas just like our Anglo-Celtic ancestors in the Uplands and Backsettlements.  

Father Christmas of Old
The Old Christmas still lives and is growing in popularity.  I keep both the Old and New Christmas at my house and it is a way to enjoy the holiday season.  There is something special about Old Christmas.  It is a quiet celebration of our old customs, wonderfully free of consumerism.  It is just pure Christmas, no commercialism.  It is wonderful.  I hear of other families that use the Old Christmas to celebrate those things most important... family, clan, one's faith, the season of winter and reflection.  These are good things.

And... a Merry Old Christmas to you all!!!   

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