Rodanthe Old Christmas – 250 Years of Tradition Keeps Customs Alive

Riding old Buck in the 1950s at a Rodanthe Old Christmas.
Riding old Buck in the 1950s at a Rodanthe Old Christmas.

They’re celebrating Old Christmas at the Village of Rodanthe today. It’s a tradition that goes back at least 250 years. Maybe even a bit longer, it’s hard to say.

It all depends on when a group of isolated villagers in Colonial times along the Outer Banks were told that England had adopted the Gregorian Calendar—the calendar we use today. Great Britain switched over from the Julian Calendar in 1752. 

That calendar had been steadily losing time and becoming less accurate because it didn’t account for leap years accurately.

When England switched, the only way that Parliament could see to do that was to simply delete 11 days from the year—that’s how inaccurate the Julian Calendar had become.

When the good folks of Rodanthe heard about the new date for Christmas—well they chose to ignore it and a wonderful tradition was born.

We’re not sure how the villagers celebrated Christmas back in 1752, bu nay the early 19th century tradition was taking hold, a tradition that included a lot of food and games music and the appearance of the mythical Old Buck. early

Old Buck it seems, was a bull who escaped from a shipwreck and came ashore somewhere on Hatteras Island. According to legend the local cows took a real liking to him. At some point in time, it’s unclear exactly when, he disappears from everyday life, making his appearance only at the Old Christmas celebration. 

The Rodanthe Old Christmas is held every year at the Rodanthe Community Center on the first Saturday before the Epiphany.

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A Different Tradition-Rodanthe Old Christmas

Celebrating Rodanthe Old Christmas in the 1950s with Old Buck.
Celebrating Rodanthe Old Christmas in the 1950s with Old Buck.

Every place that celebrates Christmas has some kind of tradition that is their own, but when it comes to being different, it’s tough to beat Old Christmas down in the Hatteras Island village of Rodanthe.

Residents, family and offspring gather from all over the world on the first Saturday after the New Year to make merry at the Rodanthe Old Christmas. Everyone acknowledges that Christmas really does fall on December 25, but for the longest time the families that made up Rodanthe refused to go along.

A lot of traditions just seem to have sprouted up and people keep them going, but this one there is no doubt about when it began—1752.

That was the year England converted from the Julian Calendar that was almost right, to the Gregorian calendar that we use today that was remarkably right. When the change was made, everybody in the British Empire—which included Rodanthe—lost 11 days.

The decision to begin using the new calendar was greeted with considerable opposition. Some of it was religious—the Gregorian calendar is named for Pope Gregory, who developed it, and in heavily Protestant England that was unacceptable. Some was fear of change, some superstition.

But the British Parliament voted that the new calendar was the law of the land and the rest of the Empire followed suit—except for Rodanthe, where the continued to celebrate Christmas 11 days later than the rest of the world.

Rodanthe Old Christmas has become a wonderful celebration of the unique qualities of village life in an isolated area.

There are traditional foods that are prepared; there are games for kids and some for adults. Family members travel incredible distances to be on hand, which is why the celebration was moved to the first Saturday after the New Year.

The highlight is an appearance of Old Buck, a strong and—according to legend—virile bull who came ashore in a shipwreck. Old Buck, it seems, still haunts the maritime forests of Hatteras Island, reappearing only at Old Christmas.

The Rodanthe Old Christmas will take place on January 6 this year. Activities are centered around the Rodanthe Community Center.