The Queen of Ordinary Remembers “Old Christmas” – January 6, 2014

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Have you had enough of Christmas shopping, feasting, decorating the house, and cleaning up?  You may be surprised to hear that some people celebrate “Old Christmas” on January 6 or in some places, January 7th.  Some people also refer to it as “Twelfth Night” or “Twelfthtide” – coming 12 days after Christ’s birth.  In some places, people believe this was the day that the Wise Men arrived to find the babe in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, while others believe it is the actual date of Christ’s birth.

One of my former students first told me about “Old Christmas” and said that his family still followed it.  They said it was the true date of Christ’s birth.  On midnight of Old Christmas, they informed me that if a person snuck out to the barn without the animals knowing they were there, they could see the animals kneel down and speak in human voices for one hour.  They would remember the first Christmas when Christ was born and placed in a manger among their ancestors – sheep, donkey, cow, hen, dog, cat, and others.  In this holy hour, the animals would talk to God.

I thought it was a charming Appalachian tale, but when I looked a little deeper on the internet, I found that January 7th is regarded as “Old Christmas” by other cultures in various places.  Christmas on January 7 is also known as Old Christmas Day because eleven days were dropped to make up for the calendar discrepancy that accumulated with Julian calendar when England and Scotland switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Many people, especially in rural areas, did not accept the loss of these 11 days and preferred to use the Julian calendar.

Christmas Day is a public holiday on January 7 in countries such as Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and the Ukraine. Some countries, such as Armenia, observe Christmas Day on January 6.  (This information came from a website called

An explanation for the difference in calendars can be found at the following web site: under “Old Christmas.”

On one of the coldest days recorded in decades, I doubt if many children will be sneaking out to the barn tonight to spy on the animals.  I do like to think of them, though, knelt in remembrance of Christ’s birth, and speaking/praying for this one hour a year in human voices.





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