West Virginia Encyclopedia Published

January 6: 'Old Christmas' Celebrated Across West Virginia, Appalachia


 January 6 is the day traditionally known as Old Christmas. It’s a relic of the Julian Calendar, developed 2,000 years ago. In the late 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar to match the solar cycle more closely. To do so, the Julian Calendar had to be reduced from 376 to 365 days, eliminating 11 full days. Some countries, though, resisted the change and kept the old Julian Calendar. It took nearly 200 years for England and Scotland to come around. Both countries adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

About this time, many of these English and Scots were emigrating to the Americas and settling in Appalachia. Some didn’t know about the change or refused to adopt the new Gregorian Calendar and kept the extra 11 days in their calendars. This meant that for them, Christmas fell on January 6 rather than December 25. Over time, most Christians in Appalachia started observing December 25 as Christmas. However, until fairly recently, Old Christmas was still celebrated in some rural areas of West Virginia. It’s recalled in various traditions such as in the fiddle tune “Old Christmas Morning.”