Old Christmas: An Island Tradition
For more than 100 years residents of Rodanthe have celebrated two Christmases: the Christmas that comes with Santa Claus on Dec. 25, and Old Christmas, which is visited by "Old Buck" on Jan. 6. Held at Rodanthe Community Building, festivities begin on the first Saturday after Epiphany with Old Christmas Eve night.
Today, families from the villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo gather to celebrate, roast oysters and await the bull of the hour. Tourists are welcome but seldom understand the meaning behind the added holiday.
In the late 70s, Old Christmas had gained the reputation of being a good place to participate in a good old-fashioned drunken brawl.
Towards evening Old Buck, the mythical wild bull, appears. He is a makeshift horned, masked creature, usually with the body of a blanket to cover the wearer. Legend has it that Old Buck impregnated every single cow in Buxton Woods and terrorized local farmers until a hunter finally shot him. His spirit survives in the Rodanthe hummocks and marshes.
Hence, Old Christmas Eve night (Jan. 5) was the time when natives used to say that the cattle came out to pray. It was also the time when the poke bush was reported to have appeared overnight, where none had grown before.
Old Christmas, also known as Little Christmas, Epiphany or Twelfth Night, is thought to have its origin in medieval England. Before the Calendar Act of 1751, England celebrated Christmas on the 6th day of January. In some parts of Great Britain, this date is still referred to as Old Christmas Day.
Another explanation for the date is that when the English Crown adopted the Georgian Calendar, shortening the year by eleven days, the Hatteras towns were not told until years later. When they were told, the Bankers simply refused to incorporate the change their calendar.
In Rodanthe in particular - in addition to the calendar timing - there was a practical reason for the celebration. Years ago the town was divided into two settlements - north and south Rodanthe (the Southern settlement became Waves) separated by a mile. It was hard for friends and family to gather on one holiday, so the natives of one settlement visited kin in the other and then on the second Christmas the process was reversed. The end result was that both sections managed to enjoy twice the fun.
One old custom recalled by Nell Wechter in a late 40s edition of the Coastland Times took place on Old Christmas Eve night. It was a custom in which some of the young girls in the community met, cooked a meal and set it on the table. The girls then hid under the table and waited for "ghosts" to appear. Because the waiting produced dead silence, the setting was called a "Dumb Table." The ghosts themselves were supposed to look like the men the girls would one day marry.
Traditions of Old Christmas past also include beginning the festivities with fifes and drums playing eerie music at the crack of dawn to awaken natives.
Children and adults would put socks or homemade masks on their faces, dress in colorful clothing and run around singing Christmas carols to their neighbors as they awaited the appearance of Old Buck.
Old Christmas celebrations will take place on January 9th.
Article: Outer Banks Sentinel
Photos: Outer Banks History Center