Rodanthe’s Old Christmas in January is a unique Outer Banks holiday tradition that has lasted for at least 100 years.
If this holiday season starts to feel a little short, just drive a bit farther south to Rodanthe — where Christmas comes not once, but twice, each year.
Known as Old Christmas, which traditionally falls on January 6, the southern villages (particularly Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo) have been keeping this custom alive for generations. Just how long is anyone’s guess, but it’s said that it started sometime after England replaced the Julian calendar with the current Georgian calendar in 1752, effectively shortening the year by 11 days.
According to local lore, the isolated residents of Hatteras Island didn’t hear about the official switch until much later — and when they finally did, they didn’t put much stock in the idea that they needed to change their celebrations as a result.
Some of the key components of Old Christmas include food, music, dancing — and, of course, the annual one-day appearance of “Old Buck.”
The stories behind Old Buck vary (some say he’s a remnant of Medieval English customs, while others insist he was a particularly virile bull who used to terrorize the islands long ago and still haunts the nearby woods). Connie Page, a Buxton native who regularly organizes many of the Second Christmas activities, says that when she was younger Old Buck arrived to “bring havoc to the situation” and signaled the fact that it was time to stir things up by starting the music.
“Now we just look forward to it,” she says of Old Buck (who’s generally played by a pair of unidentified local men who don a couple of blankets and a horned mask). “We don’t ever know who’s under there, or when he will arrive, but you don’t want to miss old steer head!”
While some Old Christmas traditions have fallen by the wayside (such as the once ubiquitous “dumb table” where unmarried young women could set out food and wait silently for the apparitions of their future husbands), many others have stood the test of time — at least as far as anyone remembers. The day still begins with a target-based oyster shoot that nets the winner a half-bushel of oysters to his or herself, and additional oysters are roasted over an open fire throughout the night for everyone else’s enjoyment, along with plenty of chicken and pastry (also known locally as “pie bread”).
In keeping with tradition, live music and dancing lasts from about eight o’clock to midnight, because above all, Old Christmas is a time that the whole island community comes together — to visit, share old stories and celebrate the holiday cheer. “It’s just something that we’ve always done here, and we try to keep it going,” says Connie. “Things may have changed a lot, but we still enjoy it.”
This year, Old Christmas will be held on January 7 at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Center. 23186 Myrna Peters Road, Rodanthe. Ticket prices for the all-you-can-eat feast depend on the annual oyster cost. All are welcome.