Old Calendar Protestants

Eastern Orthodox folks celebrate Christmas on a different day than we Western Christians do.  They don’t go along with the change in the calendar that was orchestrated by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582 in order to re-align our calendar with the motions of the solar system.  The so-called Gregorian calendar was accepted throughout the European-heritage nations by 1752.  But the Eastern nations remained under the old Julian calendar.

What I didn’t know is that some Protestants also kept using the Julian calendar.  They could be found in Appalachia as late as the 20th century.  From the Kairos Quarterly, a publication of an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia, via Trystan Bloom at First Thoughts:

As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar – which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new’ Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.

via Old Calendarists in Appalachia » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

I’m fascinated by such living relics of past history.  One of these days I intend to get on a boat and travel to Tangier Island here in Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay.  This island was settled by British colonists in 1686, and the people have been so isolated that to this day they still speak the English dialect of that day.  Which means they talk pretty much the way Shakespeare did.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Fr. Gregory Hogg

    Actually, there are both old calendar and new calendar Orthodox, too. In the US, the Greek and Antiochian jurisdictions celebrate on the new calendar. The OCA, an historically Rusyn body, has both old and new calendar parishes. And the Russian Patriarchal parishes and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad both use the old calendar. All Orthodox celebrated on the old calendar until the 1920s. There is talk that a great council, in the planning stages, will address this issue among others. (Hope this isn’t too much “inside baseball” for your readers!)

  • Fr. Gregory Hogg

    Actually, there are both old calendar and new calendar Orthodox, too. In the US, the Greek and Antiochian jurisdictions celebrate on the new calendar. The OCA, an historically Rusyn body, has both old and new calendar parishes. And the Russian Patriarchal parishes and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad both use the old calendar. All Orthodox celebrated on the old calendar until the 1920s. There is talk that a great council, in the planning stages, will address this issue among others. (Hope this isn’t too much “inside baseball” for your readers!)

  • Joe

    My mother’s family belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is in communion with Rome but has continued to use the Eastern rites and practices including the Julian calendar. As I kid I got a second Christmas and Easter with my extended family on my mother’s side.

    The different feast days allowed my parents to avoid fighting over where to spend holidays.

  • Joe

    My mother’s family belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is in communion with Rome but has continued to use the Eastern rites and practices including the Julian calendar. As I kid I got a second Christmas and Easter with my extended family on my mother’s side.

    The different feast days allowed my parents to avoid fighting over where to spend holidays.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    that stuff is fun.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    that stuff is fun.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ Woman of the House

    I lived near that monastery in WV for nearly sixteen years and have Orthodox friends who attend the monastery church. My family was invited to their Nativity party on January 7 each year. It seemed odd to me to still be celebrating Christmas so late in January, but we always had a great time. I didn’t know that about Protestants in the area celebrating Old Christmas. I don’t think I ever met any who did, but the culture of the isolated mountain areas is fascinating! In some ways it’s like going back in time!

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ Woman of the House

    I lived near that monastery in WV for nearly sixteen years and have Orthodox friends who attend the monastery church. My family was invited to their Nativity party on January 7 each year. It seemed odd to me to still be celebrating Christmas so late in January, but we always had a great time. I didn’t know that about Protestants in the area celebrating Old Christmas. I don’t think I ever met any who did, but the culture of the isolated mountain areas is fascinating! In some ways it’s like going back in time!

  • EricM

    My father owned a garden center in Queens, NY and sold Christmas trees every year. At the end of the season all the unsold trees were made into mulch. Usually on the 25th or 26th local folks where were Orthodox would stop by looking for trees.

  • EricM

    My father owned a garden center in Queens, NY and sold Christmas trees every year. At the end of the season all the unsold trees were made into mulch. Usually on the 25th or 26th local folks where were Orthodox would stop by looking for trees.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ Woman of the House

    And surprisingly, there is a strong Orthodox presence in western WV. Our town of 40,000 has a Greek and Antiochian Orthodox church, and the Russian Orthodox monastery is nearby in the neighboring county. Before living there, I would have thought that area to be monolithically Baptist, but there is a surprising amount of diversity.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ Woman of the House

    And surprisingly, there is a strong Orthodox presence in western WV. Our town of 40,000 has a Greek and Antiochian Orthodox church, and the Russian Orthodox monastery is nearby in the neighboring county. Before living there, I would have thought that area to be monolithically Baptist, but there is a surprising amount of diversity.

  • SAL

    I grew up about 30 miles from Tangier Island and I used to install carpet on the island with my father.

    The Tangier Island accent wasn’t thick by our standards (Deal Island) but my relatives in Baltimore said it sounded vaguely like English but was less intelligible than a Jamaican dialect.

    Our Deal Island accent was a bit less sharp having been moderated by American influences. We still had to overenunciate our words and speak slowly for Americans to understand us.

  • SAL

    I grew up about 30 miles from Tangier Island and I used to install carpet on the island with my father.

    The Tangier Island accent wasn’t thick by our standards (Deal Island) but my relatives in Baltimore said it sounded vaguely like English but was less intelligible than a Jamaican dialect.

    Our Deal Island accent was a bit less sharp having been moderated by American influences. We still had to overenunciate our words and speak slowly for Americans to understand us.

  • Jason

    Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, also isolated and you need a boat or plane to get there, has residents with a strong vestige of Elizabethan English in their accent.

  • Jason

    Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, also isolated and you need a boat or plane to get there, has residents with a strong vestige of Elizabethan English in their accent.


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