Old Christmas

One of the holiday traditions that's stuck with me from growing up in Eastern Kentucky is the idea that January the 6th is Old Christmas. I'd always heard that it's the day you take your Christmas tree down, the day that the Magi arrived and, that, curiously, farm animals could talk on Old Christmas. It was always referred to as a custom that the old folks had followed; an old story among Appalachians of an era past.

Of course, this celebration refers to Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, the day on which the Magi arrived. The celebration actually predates the observation of the Feast of the Nativity, and is known to have been observed as early as 380 A.D.. The observation of Old Christmas was brought to the Appalachian Mountains by Scotch-Irish settlers; traditions that sprung up around Old Christmas included the idea that animals could be heard to pray and the superstition that anything you lend to someone on this day will never be returned.

Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli

So many old traditions and old linguistic patterns were still evident in the Appalachia of my youth. I try to keep a little bit of that by holding on to my Christmas decorations until Old Christmas. I haven't heard any cattle lowing just yet, but maybe someday...