Log in

Don't Forget Old Christmas!


Taken from the writings of Vance Randolph and others.

As the Christmas Season wanes it's fun to recall some traditions of early

Ozarkers a century or more past. In large sections of hill country,

Christmas wasn't celebrated on December 25, but rather January 5th or

6th,which is the Feast of the Epiphany, the traditional day the Maggi

brought presents to the Christ Child, as well as the Baptism of Jesus. In

the British Isles, the birth of Christ was celebrated at midnight on

January 5th, Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day being the next. This

continued until Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 which set

Christmas officially as December 25th. Those on the frontier seemed

uninterested in complying, so the monikers “Old” and “New” were


Most of the settlers to the Ozarks were frontiersmen hailing from

Kentucky and Tennessee, bringing with them traditions of their

forebears, one belief held that Old Christmas or Twelfth Night was

magical and certain things happen at midnight. One such belief was

held that the future could be foretold on this date. Vance Randolph

writes that the weather on the last twelve days of the year, rule the

weather for the coming twelve months. Another school of thought

maintains these “ruling days” can be foretold from the last six days of

December plus the first 6 days in January, while others contend the

weather for the year is determined by Old Christmas and the 11 days

following. Many divine how much monthly rainfall for the year, by

halving 6 onions and removing the cores from the twelve halves, and

filling them with salt. Line them up and name each one for a month. In

the morning how much water each holds is the corresponding amount of

rain we can expect.

Many believe the elderberry sprouts on Old Christmas Eve even if the

ground is hard you will find little green shoots under the snow. Others

contend that roses and perennial flowers will bloom, even if no trace is

present in the morning. Animals also have a role in honoring and

announcing the birth of the savior at midnight. This was not only widely

believed but accepted as proof that Old Christmas was in fact the actual

day Christ was born. Bee hives are supposed to hum loudly at midnight,

some say if several are set together this “Old Christmas Hum” may be

heard for some distance. Perhaps better known is the tradition of

looking in the barn at midnight for the cattle to kneel before God and

bellow. Some say “the critters may speak that night in order to pray

aloud in English” and praise the savior’s birth. Many Ozark children in

the days of yore have been found asleep in a haystack waiting for one of

these Christmas miracles. Children born on Old Christmas are said to be

lucky with cattle and may be able to “speak the beast’s brute language”.

The rest of the day was celebrated with families bringing in decorative

greenery and preparing food, but this seemed to often turn into a

community event, marked by going from house to house, caroling or

playing practical jokes as one would on April Fool’s Day, often

culminating with gathering in a community location to make merry.

The bacchanalia of feasting, fiddling, and dancing, often powered by

100 proof corn liquor, had people arriving in the morning leaving to go

home and finish chores only to then return to the revelries in the

evening. Midnight was hailed in with barrages of gunfire and other

explosions as powder was available. The party often carried on through

the night and into the morning only with folks finally returning home in

time for chores.

To submit a story, comment, for future discussion idea for Champ to explore, email news@marshfieldmail, RE: Champ Herren.



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here