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What is Old Christmas?

All is quiet on the production floor at nuCamp on January 6th in observance of Old Christmas. This post is written by Reuben Shelter, a nuCamp team member and member of the Amish community. Reuben shares what Old Christmas is and a brief history of the day.

What day is Christmas? That sounds like an easy question, right? Well, it depends on who you ask.

The Amish celebrate Christmas twice. The first time is on December 25th with the rest of the world. The second time is on January 6th, which is referred to as “Old Christmas.”

So why the name Old Christmas? Most observers of this holiday affirm this is the traditional day recognized as the birthday of Christ.

In the 1500s, Europeans were faced with a problem. Every year their calendar was falling further out of line with the solar year. This was because the Julian calendar — the calendar used at that time — was off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds each year. Hardly a long period of time, but in a couple of centuries, it amounted to the seasons shifting by a month. Not an ideal situation at all!

In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar to correct the issue. This calendar had a leap year only every four years and was designed to exactly align with the sun. However, to get the dates back on track, Pope Gregory XIII had to eliminate ten days. So in 1582, the calendar jumped from October 5 to October 15.

Many regions were reluctant to adapt to the new calendar. In fact, it took years for some people to accept it. In the meantime, several leap years had passed, increasing the gap of missing days.

Today, most of the world celebrates December 25th as the day Jesus was born. But some more conservative groups still cling to the fact that the anniversary of that birth would be on January 6th due to the days that were lost when the calendar changed.

The Amish are one of those groups. Most Amish people celebrate Christmas on December 25th just like everyone else. They gather with family, have a feast, and exchange gifts.

However, on January 6th, the Amish observe Christmas again. This is Old Christmas — the original day recognizing Christ’s birth. This is a more solemn day for the Amish.

They begin the day with fasting and prayer. Most adults rise early to read the Bible and meditate on the significance of that event long ago. They explain the Christmas story to their children. They think about the reason Christ came. In their simple houses, away from the hustle and bustle of the world, they reflect quietly on the true meaning of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Some people also refer to Old Christmas as Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day. This is because January 6th is the date the Feast of Epiphany is observed. This feast celebrates the day the wise men gave their gifts to the Christ child.

So what day is Christmas? In a way, it doesn’t really matter. It can be observed on December 25th or it can be observed on January 6th. Or you can be like the Amish and observe it twice. For something that special, I can’t see why not.

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