Carl Mays: Are you ready for Christmas – in January?

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 11:14 PM

Back in the 1970s, Miss Maggie, an elderly lady of the mountains, talked about Old Christmas. According to her, many mountain people celebrated Christmas in January. “My grandfather always celebrated Christmas on Jan. 6,” she said. “He refused to acknowledge Dec. 25 as the real Christmas, claiming it was man-made.” She said that Old Christmas was much more subdued than is our modern holiday. It was a quiet, reflective time, celebrated with prayer and soft, a cappella singing.

Miss Maggie said, “Grandfather told me how they gathered around the fireplace when he was a boy and sang the Cherry Tree Carol.” She shared some of the song’s words: “On the sixth day of January, his birthday shall be / When the stars and the mountains shall tremble with glee / As Joseph was a-walking, thus did the angels sing / And Mary’s son at midnight, was born to be our King.”

Interested in what the elderly lady said concerning Old Christmas, I researched the subject to learn more about the origin and the specific reason for the Jan. 6 observance. That’s when I discovered how the 12 days of Christmas were once celebrated in the mountains, beginning on Dec. 25, and ending on the evening of Jan. 5. This custom was inherited by the mountain people from their European ancestors. Down through the years, however, many people began to discard the 12-day celebration while retaining the Jan. 6 observance of Christmas.

Like Miss Maggie claimed, the Jan. 6 observance was subdued – originally following 12 festive days. Beginning on Dec. 25 and continuing until the evening of Jan. 5, there was much excitement, an abundance of merry-making, banjo-picking, fiddle-playing, quilting bees, dances and all sorts of “goings-on.”

On Old Christmas Eve, the 12 days of celebrating took on a different light. The loud singing ceased, the dancing stopped and the folks put away their fiddles and banjos, as the frivolous air was pushed aside. Before midnight, everyone sat around the hearth and listened to the eldest member of the family tell of the birth of Christ. Other members would talk about the promise of peace and brotherhood, which came with that birth. The Night of Miracles, it was called.

The older members of the family instructed the children to quietly walk to the barn. There, they supposedly could see the animals humbly kneel in observance of Christ’s birth. Some of the older folks even claimed that the animals would speak and that water would turn to wine, evidence that miracles were still happening.

Finally, as the clock hands crept past midnight and Old Christmas arrived, it was customary to bring out a jug of sweet cider and sing: “Love and joy come to you, and to your wassail too / And God bless you and send you a happy new year / And God send you a happy new year.”

Then they would burn a piece of cedar or some other fir in the fireplace. As they sat quietly and looked at the flames, they would reflect inwardly, praising God for the birth of Christ and for the blessing of His birth.

Actually, I think it could be a great thing if we all could keep Christmas in our hearts year ‘round.

© 2013 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books. The free mentoring and self-help site is based on his "A Strategy For Winning" book and program. E-mail or view