As we enter the Christmas season (actually the Advent season according to the ecclesiastical calendar) I am reminded of "Old Christmas" customs on the Outer Banks. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII shortened the official year by eleven minutes and fifteen seconds as a correction to the inaccurate Julian calendar of his time. He also deleted ten days to bring his new calendar into sync with the solar cycle. All Catholic countries immediately complied. Protestant countries resisted the change for many years.
Great Britain and the American colonies did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until September, 1752, when eleven days (September 3-13) were dropped from the calendar in order to make the correction. In that year December 25 (on the "old" calendar) was January 5, 1753 (on the "new" calendar).
Apparently villages along the Outer Banks did not hear about the change until some years later. Many Bankers refused to go along with the change and continued to celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar. By 1801, as the calendars drifted farther apart, "Old Christmas" now fell on January 6. Although Old Christmas has fallen on January 7 since 1900, it has become traditional to continue to celebrate Old Christmas on January 6. I am assuming that this is because December 25 corresponded to January 6 for 100 years, and for most people the original reason for the difference had been forgotten.
For many years several Ocracoke families celebrated only Old Christmas. Today only a few islanders mark both holidays.
In Rodanthe on Hatteras Island villagers have been celebrating Old Christmas for more than two hundred years with a community oyster roast on a Saturday afternoon, and a party in the evening with the appearance of "Old Buck," a costumed islander playing a mythical wild bull. According to legend, a wild bull terrorized medieval English villagers many years ago until a hunter finally killed him. It seems the earliest settlers brought the custom with them to the Outer Banks.
Sad to say, I have never attended an Old Christmas celebration at Rodanthe. Even though it is primarily an event for locals rather than a tourist attraction, I'm told that visitors are welcome. It is held during the first week of January. You can learn more, including the exact date, by googling "Old Christmas Rodanthe."
Village Craftsmen's hand made island soaps are among our most popular gift items. Click on the photo below to go directly to our Andromeda Soaps page.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter discusses place names on Ocracoke. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news113009.htm.