Christmases of yesteryear were simpler, and in the eyes of many rural people, more meaningful.

Country America, a Meredith magazine, reports there are still remote regions in the hidden hollows and closed-in coves of the Appalachian back country where "Old Christmas" is celebrated as it had been long ago in their ancestors' homelands in the British Isles and Europe. Those who adhere to the tradition of Old Christmas staunchly maintain that Jan. 6, not Dec. 25, is the proper day to celebrate the birth of Christ.As George Monteith, who lived in the North Carolina Smokies, once said, "December 25 is a man-made Christmas!" Like others of his generation, he believed that the 12 days of Christmas (which ended on Jan. 6) were times for reflection, contemplation, and the giving of inexpensive gifts on each of the days leading up to the event.

These gifts were often lovingly crafted items such as tree ornaments, wood carvings, or perhaps a potholder for use in the kitchen.

There is a great deal of folklore associated with Old Christmas. Bee-keepers maintained that at midnight, on Jan. 5, bees roared in their hives in celebration of the Christ child.

Harking back to Biblical accounts, it was also believed that the beasts of the field took to their knees on the 6th.

According to John Parris, who has long chronicled the folklore and past of the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains, there was even a popular mountain ballad, sometimes called the "Cherry Tree Carol," which told of the birth of Christ on Jan. 6:

On the Sixth Day of January

His birthday shall be,

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When the stars and the mountains

Shall tremble with glee.

John also says that in many mountain households, the tree wasn't erected until Dec. 25. Decorations were added on each of the 12 days until the tree reached its fully decorated glory on Jan. 5. The stroke of midnight on Old Christmas Eve was the time to take down the tree. The decorations were stored and the limbs were burned in an open fire - the refreshing fragrance from the evergreens was considered a fitting way to mark the arrival of Old Christmas.

Once the hour of midnight heralded the advent of Old Christmas, families would hold hands, pray and sing a cheery song before they went off to bed.

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