December: Old Christmas

This Month in North Carolina History

The Outer Banks town of Rodanthe oldxmashas long maintained a custom once observed in many parts of North Carolina: the celebration of “Old Christmas.” After observing modern Christmas on December 25th, people in Rodanthe and a few other places on the Outer Banks enjoy another Christmas Day on January the 5th.

Historians agree that Old Christmas arose from a change in calendars. In 1752 the government of Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar to replace the less accurate Julian calendar. To make the change, eleven days were dropped from the month of September 1752 in Britain and all of her colonies. This made Christmas day fall on December the 25th, but many North Carolinians continued to celebrate Christmas on the old date in January.

Ultimately, only on the Outer Banks was the day preserved. One feature of Old Christmas in Rodanthe is the appearance of “Old Buck,” a four-footed creature looking something like a bull which is said to roam the forest during the year. At Christmas he appears to dance and frolic among the celebrating children and adults. Music, bonfires, and oyster roasts also mark this unusual North Carolina event.


Sources
Kane, Harnett T. The Southern Christmas Book: The Full Story from Earliest Times to Present: People, Customs, Conviviality, Carols, Cooking. New York : D. McKay Co., 1958.

Image Source:
“Dare County: Rodanthe: Old Christmas, circa 1920s-1930s,” P0078_0181, Ben Dixon MacNeil Photographic Collection (P0078), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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