So, I noticed this sign the other day... What exactly is “Old Christmas”?
Turns out it is what the Christian church calls “Epiphany”–exactly twelve days after Christmas and the traditional date of the Three Wise Men coming to Bethlehem to find the infant child Jesus. The Amish all over North America celebrate it as a major holiday. Amish businesses are always closed, as well as those mostly staffed by the Amish.
For more details, I turned to a couple of websites and my Amish friend Glenn.
Der Dutchman News says that throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas was a twelve-day feast which began on December 25 and ended on January 6—thus the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” But with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in place of the old Julian calendar in the 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII declared that December 25 was to be celebrated as Christmas Day. Some Protestant groups, including the Amish, rejected that decree and continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6. These days the Amish celebrate both days, while the rest of us stick to December 25th.
The Amish, however, keep their December 25th celebrations much plainer and simpler than ours. Gifts are exchanged, but in a very low-key way compared to our excesses. There are no Christmas trees or decorations in the house, and no Santa Claus. The day is mainly for food and family gatherings, in addition to celebrating the birth of Christ.
North Country Public Radio’s website says that both holidays are for visiting and eating, but one thing sets the two days apart: “Old Christmas is a fasting day, which means that you fast until noontime, and so as one person told me, “It’s more fun to go visiting on December 25th, because then you're not fasting in the morning—you get started celebrating from the time you arrive!”