Old Christmas Celebrated on Hatteras Island

January is here, and with it, it’s Christmas again. But this is not the Christmas you’re accustomed to. This is â??Old Christmasâ??, and Rodanthe is one of few places in the world that still celebrates it. So if you’re in town, here’s what you need to know about Old Christmas.

What Is It?

Old Christmas is the community celebration of a uniquely Outer Banks Christmas. It’s celebrated the Saturday closest to the 6th. While traditional Christmas is a time for family, Old Christmas is a time for community. People from the tri villages, (Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo) gather together to share stories, drinks, oysters, and wait for the appearance of ‘Old Buck’ Also known as the ‘Beast of Trent’.  Visitors are welcome, and it’s truly a sight to see.

The Origins

Old Christmas is officially on January 6th also known as Twelfth Night or the Epiphany. Of course, the reason Rodanthe celebrates it has nothing to do with the Epiphany.

It has to do with the calendar.

In the 1700’s the Georgian calendar replaced the Roman calendar, shortening the year by 11 days. Since the Outer Banks was so isolated, it didn’t get this news until almost 100 years later. By then, the locals were pretty much set in their ways and didn’t want to change. But they did love a good party. They comprised, celebrating traditional (family) Christmas on December 25th by the new calendar and Old Christmas, (community Christmas) in January.

Old Buck

The legend of Old Buck started well over 100 years ago, when a wild bull inhabited Frisco Woods (known then as Trent.) Old Buck went around scaring villagers and livestock with his mighty horns.   Eventually, a hunter ended Old Buck and took his horns and hide as a trophy.

Today, Old Buck is the symbol of Old Christmas in Rodanthe. He is often played by one or two men hiding under a blanket adorned with Old Bucks real horns, (they say.) He’s led in by the masked keeper, whose identity is kept secret.

Old Buck gallivants throughout the revelers, mock goring people in a playful manner. Everyone agrees that Old Buck is the highlight of the evening and the symbol of Old Christmas on the Outer Banks.

Old Christmas of Yesteryear

Old Christmas traditions are as unique and varied as the islanders themselves. Old Buck is one of the few traditions still used in Modern Old Christmas, but there were some others lost to timeâ?¦

One of these was the ‘dumb table’. On Old Christmas eve, unmarried women made food offerings for the spirits. They set the offerings on the table and hid to wait for them to appear. If the spirits were pleased with the offerings, they thanked the girls by telling them the name of the man they’d marry. Since no one else spoke during this time, it was called the ‘dumb table.’ 

Adults and children alike would wear colorful homemade masks, sing carols and make candy while waiting for Old Buck to appear.

Old Christmas also hosted an ‘Oyster Shoot’, a shooting contest where oysters were given as prizes.

The traditional foods of Old Christmas, include oysters, chicken stew topped with pie bread, white turkey, (swans) duck, molasses candy and strong drink.

Drums and fifes are the traditional instruments of Old Christmas. Though drums are still used, it’s more in a ceremonial manner than for the music. Modern Old Christmas drums mark the arrival of Old Buck.

Old Christmas Today

Today’s Old Christmas is a little bit different. Old Buck and his keeper are still an integral part of the celebration and everyone looks forward to seeing him. Oysters and sweets are the favorite foods, though there are often other things to eat as well, such as chicken. They also still have the traditional Oyster Shoot. Today, a band has replaced the drums and fifes. There is dancing, merriment and good time is had by all. So if you’re on the Outer Banks in January, stop by the Rodanthe Community Center for a great time and a great memory.

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