Happiness News – Old Christmas

I can feel the temperature dropping, and the rain hitting my window is beginning to make different sounds, heralding the “wintry mix” we’ve been preparing for all day.  Dad and I have been all over the farm, turning off water lines in some areas, and installing heat lamps and space heaters in others. The cats have insulated “apartments” to curl up in, and the chickens… well, they have options, if they’ll use them. We’ve located our emergency lanterns and have plans for alternative heat sources if electricity fails.

This morning I was in London, KY, where it was a balmy 54 degrees, sharing a message in music for a United Methodist church.  According to the church calendar, today was Epiphany – the day we celebrate the coming of the Magi, or wise men, to worship the Christ child. According to Shakespeare, tonight is Twelfth Night. According to the season’s most annoying song, I’m supposed to either give or receive twelve drummers drumming tomorrow. And, according to my Appalachian traditions, today is Old Christmas Eve.

Here’s how Old Christmas came to be.  In 1582, Pope Gregory issued an edict that would correct an 11-minute miscalculation in Julius Caesar’s calendar, which over the years had caused the date to be off by ten days. Britain was stubborn… and Protestant… and rejected the Pope’s edict, continuing to operate under the Julian Calendar.

When Great Britain finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar, it was the mid-1700’s and they were 11 days off. The government decreed that the day after September 2, 1752 would be September 14, 1752. There are records of protests, with people shouting against the government, “Give us back our 11 days!”

Mainstream society gradually accepted the new reality, but some of the people never really got over it. Secret celebrations of “Old Christmas” on the twelfth day following the official Christmas Day in the Gregorian Calendar, were held in many rural areas, and the tradition continues in the Appalachian Mountains… and here in Berea. Our Old Christmas traditions are a muddle of early Christian teaching, combined with pre-Christian nature-worship and ancient Celtic Winter Solstice rituals. It’s an anthropologist’s dream.

I like celebrating Old Christmas because it connects me to a set of traditions and practices that go back hundreds of years – perhaps thousands of years in some cases – and I feel in my soul the strength of my ancestors as I sing some of those haunting tunes and speak the ancient words. And I like celebrating Old Christmas because it adds at least 12 days to a season that is, in my opinion, far too short in our modern era. Most of my friends have taken their Christmas decorations down already. Already?!?! Not so for us – we’re still warmly surrounded at home and at the Farm by reminders of Christ’s coming to the stable in Bethlehem. And we will be for at least another week, since we’re involved in a Wassail Tour and Mummers Play in Berea on Saturday!  Old Christmas is indeed alive and well here.

The rain has a definite icy ring to it now as it hits the window. I’m glad we prepared for the weather, and I pray safety and warmth for all on this night. Thinking about preparation reminds me of the season of Advent – the season leading up to Christmas in the church calendar. During the four weeks of Advent each year, we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. God prepared for Christmas for hundreds of years. Scholars believe that the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah were written some 400 years before Christ was born. God promised King David an everlasting kingdom through his lineage a thousand years before Christ was born. That’s preparation!

Dad and I spent some time today making sure the pipes at the farm won’t burst, and we spent some time in the past constructing warm places for our animals to take shelter from the cold and wind. We did it because we love the Farm, and we love the creatures who call it home. If time spent preparing counts for anything, how much more must God love us! He has been preparing for our redemption since the beginning of time. If you’re not sure He loves you, be sure now.

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