Old Christmas

When I was growing up, we celebrated Christmas on December 24 and "Old Christmas" on January 6. I was taught that this was the "true Christmas" because this was the day Christmas fell on before the calendar was changed. I never really knew what that meant, "when the calendar was changed." I now know that this was a reference to the Julian calendar being changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Apparently not everyone adopted this calendar right away, but eventually most did for the sake of international trade. Greece was the last European country to adopt the reformed calendar in 1923. (This information is directly from Wikipedia).

We celebrated one Christmas with Mem's side of the family, and one with Datt' side. At least until Datt's family moved to Cashton, Wisconsin. It always felt like we celebrated with the rest of the world in December, and then the Amish observed their own private Christmas in Janauary.

We were not allowed to work on Old Christmas. We observed it as a religious holiday, just as we did Christmas and as we observed the Sabbath on Sundays. I don't know whether the Amish today still observe this day as holy. I can imagine that as more Amish people work at factories, this could become more difficult to do, since employers don't want the Amish portion of their work force to be missing that day.

In my research about Pennsylvania Germans, I found that the Amish were not the only ones who observed this holiday in colonial Pennsylvania. The "church Germans" (Lutherans, Reformed, and Calvinists) along with the sect Germans (Mennonites, Amish, Schwenkfelders, and Moravians) all observed Old Christmas. In fact, it was the Germans who successfully pushed for Christmas becoming a national holiday in the U.S. Congress after they said they wouldn't be showing up on that day. It was decided that legislation could not proceed without their presence. Steven Nolt's book Foreigners in their own Land: Pennsylvania Germans in the Early Republic is a great read about how German traditions  survived for many generations. It seems to me that the Old Order Amish and the Old Order Mennonites are alone in carrying on these traditions. 

I hope you have enjoyed Epiphany or Old Christmas, or whatever January 6 means to you. I also hope you will be showered with Blessings along the roads you travel in this New Year.


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17 thoughts on “Old Christmas”

  1. Pingback: Old Christmas | Former Amish News

  2. Our church has been using Epiphany as the time to have a Messiah Sing-a-long. We do the first part plus the Hallelujah Chorus and the last, Worthy is the Lamb. We also have soloists for the arias and recitatives.

    As a child I remember Old Christmas. We usually got together with my Dad’s side of the family.

  3. Hi Saloma,
    I grew up in Vermont in a Roman Catholic French Canadian family and I remember my mom saying that growing up they celebrated December 24- 25 as a religious holiday only with no gifts. They would go to church either for midnight mass the 24th or mass on the morning of Dec 25th. She would say that the only gifts they received were on the Epiphany on Jan. 6th and put shoes out to be filled with small gifts. She said they never got anything big – whatever fit in a shoe. They also went to church that day. During my teen years growing up I do remember going to midnight mass and then to my aunt and uncle’s house (mom’s brother) after for meat pies.

    The Roman church started celebrating Christmas as a way to pull pagans into the church who celebrated the winter solstice.

    1. Michele, I love hearing about your traditions. Whatever fits into a shoe… now that would keep the gift-giving in perspective, wouldn’t it? I feel like this tradition can get out of hand.

      I did not know that about the Roman Church. Thank you for sharing it.

      Happy New Year!

      1. I left the Roman church in my early 30’s and have never looked back in the last 30 plus years. Like the Amish it is a works religion more than a faith religion. They believe you need works and faith to be saved. I now believe like Martin Luther that my works cannot save me. The Bible says the truth will make you free and indeed it does!

  4. Interesting that you posted this. Yesterday I traveled to Angelica, NY to visit some Amish friends (formally from Conewango). It was a beautiful sunny day and I chose it over Tuesday and Thursday because of possible weddings. I knew of Old Christmas, but didn’t remember the date. My friends at the first house I visited were friendly and inviting, but told me that this wasn’t a day to visit. My plans changed and I took more pictures of barns. Have a Wonder-full New Year Saloma.

    1. Tom, that does not surprise me about the reception you received on Old Christmas. Good that you were flexible and made other plans.

      May the New Year be wonder-filled for you as well.

  5. My family is Greek Orthodox. We celebrate Christmas on December 25, but our Easter still follows the Julian(?) calendar. Some Orthodox churches (like Coptic and Russian) do still celebrate Christmas on January 6, but my family never did. In fact, I’d never heard of this “other” Christmas until I was almost out of high school. However, it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that the Greeks were the last people to adopt the Gregorian calendar!!

  6. Some in Pinecraft/Sarasota keep Old Christmas, while others don’t. It is usually pretty quiet in the mornings as those that observe Old Christmas also fast in the morning. I remember my first winter down here, I noticed the streets are so very quiet one morning and it finally dawned on me that this is January 6th. Out of curiosity I went out for a bike ride, for I wanted to see what people are doing.A few had gone fishing while a small crowd was playing shuffleboard.

    1. Katie, thanks for your input. It sounds like most of the Amish in Pinecraft are observing Old Christmas, if it’s that quiet in January 6. But perhaps, like many other things, the more traditional they are, the more they tend to stick to the old ways. Generally those who go to Sarasota are somewhat less traditional.

      I can just see you out on your bike, cruising around to see what’s going on. You are the world’s best observer, I do believe.

  7. Hello Saloma,
    I just learned of Old Christmas this year so your post was timely for me. It is funny how we intuitively follow our heritage, though, because I have done 2nd Christmas with my daughters for several years. My Pennsylvania German blood must have stirred in early January.
    You were very gracious to answer an email I sent you last year. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
    May you and yours be blessed with peace, joy and health in 2016!

    1. Melanie, thank you for your perspective. That is so interesting that you have been observing this without knowing that this was a Pennsylvania German tradition. Perhaps your Pennsylvania German blood is enough to stir these ancestral memories.

      The same to you for the New Year. And you are quite welcome for the email.

  8. I’m finding this an interesting discussion. I just recently was made aware that not all Amish observe or are even aware of the different Christmases. For some Amish observing the 2nd Christmas is December 26, while other Amish observe January 6. I had a relative who observed December 26 & to them this was kept more “holy” than Christmas in itself, also kept as a day of prayer & fasting. Growing up we observed January 6 & that is also observed in the conservative Beachy circles. Just wondering; do the Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites, etc etc observe these holidays?? Or is this more or less an Amish thing & where did this start? Was it brought over from the old country? Have a wonderful day, friends!

    1. Mary Ellen, I don’t actually know about the Hutterites, but I am guessing that the Old Order Mennonites do observe Old Christmas.

      Interesting that you observed that some Amish consider January 6 more holy than December 24. That is what I remember we did when I was a child.

      From my research, I would say that this tradition did start in the Old World. Not only the sect Germans, but also the church Germans observed Old Christmas for at least several generations after they emigrated to the New World.

      Wishing you a Happy New Year!

  9. Hello Saloma, I am from Brasil and here in the catholic church we learn that on january 6 is celebrated Reis Magos’ day (I did a little research online and I think they are called Three Kings or Three Magi or Three Wise Man in North America). It isn’t really a celebration appart from a few regions here. The only thing we all know is that this is the day we put christmas decorations away.
    In Argentina though, there is a celebration (my mom was born there). It’s the day people exchange gifts, since it was the day the Three Kings present three gifts to Jesus, children leave water for the Kings’ camels on the window sill…

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