Long ago, the northernmost tip of Hatteras Island was covered with maritime forest. Here Native American settlers lived in prosperous villages, sustained by the region’s abundant fish and game.
Isolated, stubborn and independent, when word finally reached the people living in Rodanthe that Great Britain had adopted the Gregorian Calendar—it’s what we use today—in 1752, they chose to ignore it. As a consequence a wonderful tradition has survived for more than 260 years—the Rodanthe Old Christmas.
Originally the date of the Old Christmas observation was 11 days after Christmas, but as families grew and spread across the nation, the date of the celebration was changed to the first Saturday after the Epiphany—Saturday, January 6 in 2018, which happens to be the Epiphany in this case.
The reason for the discrepancy between the traditional December 25 Christmas and the Rodanthe Old Christmas offers a fascinating glimpse into the politics and religion of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Beginning 46 BC, Europe had been using the Julian Calendar that Julius Caesar had created. The calendar, based on solar cycles instead of lunar cycles was far superior to any other method for measuring the length of a year in use at that time. Unfortunately the calculations were off by slightly more than 11 minutes per year, or one day every 128 years. After two or three centuries—not much of a difference; after 15 or 16 centuries the discrepancy was ten days and seasons are no longer falling where they are supposed to and scheduling religious holidays had become confusing.
Pope Gregory XIII cast a wide net to resolve the problem and an Italian scientist by the name of Aloysus Lilius came up with an ingenious solution that we are still using today. Gregory ordered all Catholic nations to implement the new calendar in 1582, deleting 10 days between October 4 and 15 to account for the missing time.
Although the Gregorian calendar was clearly superior to the Julian Calendar, England, which had just fought a horrific civil war between Catholics and Protestants and was fighting to gain a foothold in the New World against Catholic nations, was not about to adapt any innovation sponsored by the Pope.
The last major European nation to do so, it took 170 years for the British to finally adapt the Gregorian calendar, and even then it was decried by many as a papist conspiracy. To make up for the now 11 days of discrepancy between the true solar year and the Julian calendar, Parliament decreed that the dates of September 3 through September 13, 1752 simply didn’t exist.
In 1752, when the law took effect, Rodanthe was an isolated village whose residents were almost exclusively descendents of British settlers. It is unclear when they were told of the change in dates. What seems to be clear, though, is that they simply ignored it and went on with their lives.
As a consequence, the Rodanthe villagers celebrated Christmas 11 days after the “new” Christmas—as it was called at the time.
Although there are no records of how the day was celebrated in the 18th century in the village, records of what happened on the Rodanthe Christmas Day dating to the early 1800s tell of a celebration including food, silliness and Old Buck. Those traditions continue to the present day with lots of food, including steamed oysters, games, music and Old Buck. the mythical bull.
Old Buck is an interesting figure. The story goes that he swam ashore from a shipwreck, found the local cows to his liking and took up residence on Hatteras Island. He was either shot and became part of a feast or disappeared in to the forests of the island, but either way, on Old Christmas his spirit reappears every year in the form of a bulls head with a cloth covered body.
If there was any doubt that the Rodanthe Old Christmas is directly linked to England, the appearance of Old Buck puts that to rest. A common tradition in Great Britain, dating to the earliest days of Christianity includes eyewitness accounts of celebrations featuring the likeness of animals.
An 1883 article published in the British journal Antiquarian Chronicle reports, “There is another custom very common in Cheshire called Old Hob; it consists of a man carrying a dead horse’s head, covered with a sheet, to frighten people.” From Wales, comes the midwinter tradition of Mari Lwyd, meaning gray mare in English.
The use of skulls and animal heads has evolved and Old Buck is more of a representation of a once mighty bull than the real thing, but the date of the celebration and the origin of the traditions recall a time and place unlike the 21st century Outer Banks.
The celebrations have gone through some changes over the years. At one time Old Christmas was when grudges and resentments built up over the past year were resolved…often, according to reports with a black eye. There were also rituals allowing a young lady to see her possible husband for the first time; and sometimes men would dress as women and women as men.
It is a bit more tame now, but still a remarkable journey into tradition and community spirit.
The Rodanthe Old Christmas is held every year at the Rodanthe Community Center.
For basic orientation, the string begins in North Carolina at Carova to the north and ends at Okracoke Island and Portsmouth Island to the south. If you look at an Outer Banks map you’ll notice how far the islands extend into the Atlantic Ocean. In part due to the separation from the mainland, and in part due to the unique history and geography, each of the barrier islands has its own culture.
Carova, Corolla, and Knotts Island
The northernmost section of the OBX is Carova. This area includes beautiful and secluded Carova Beach, Corolla, and Knotts Island. Carova and most of Knotts Island can only be accessed by boat or four-wheel drive, making it the perfect spot for those who really want to get away.
Carova has stunning ocean views and luxury beach rentals. There is a sense of isolation, but you’ll also have easy access to Carolla’s grocery store, restaurants, and gear rental agencies. Keep your binoculars handy if you’re hanging out on the beachfront patio – you may spot the famous wild mustangs having a sunset stroll. Though legally you’re required to stay 50 feet away from the wild horses, many visitors have reported horses nosing around their yards and front porches.
If you have come to the Outer Banks to see the famous wild horses, stay in nearby Corolla and plan a day trip to Carova. Corolla is best for beginning surfers and beach lovers, and has a few restaurants and shops. Love the idea of the simplicity of times gone by? Stay on the northern islands.
Bodie Island has changed over time into a peninsula due to years of shifting beaches, but it has retained it’s originally name for the area. It includes the notable towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head.
If you’ve come for history or watersports Bodie Island will keep you as busy as you want to be. Duck is a quaint “new” town built mostly to accommodate vacationers, and it’s a no-fail choice for first timers. Duck will keep you happily diverted with cultural events, high-end restaurants, shopping, and a scenic boardwalk.
The rest of Bodie Island is famous for its place in aviation history and the busy Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head have a variety of restaurants and shops, ample beach parking, and bathhouses near some boardwalks. For kite boarders and windsurfers Jockey’s Ridge is a pilgrimage. Even if you’re not that daring it’s fun to see the giant sand dunes and watch the more adventurous zip across the waves.
Bringing your dog? Duck and Nags Head have the most dog-friendly beach rules.
Roanoke Island includes the small towns of Manteo and Wanchese. These villages are pedestrian-friendly and offer watersport gear rentals, events, restaurants, and wonderful, wide beaches. Roanoke Island has a legendary history that you’ll feel immersed in it as soon as you arrive. It is also a good midway point if you want to take in both the north and south islands of the Outer Banks chain.
Hatteras Island encompasses the vacation-friendly towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Several towns (Rodanthe, Waves, Frisco, Avon, and Salvo) are small with basic provisions nearby and Nags Head just a short drive for anything more you might need.
If you’re looking for a quiet place to unplug, Rodanthe is the place to do it. Buxton is also low-key and is the home of the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. If you surf, the Atlantic side of Buxton and Hatteras has the biggest waves in the Outer Banks. The sound side of Hatteras Island is a haven for other watersports. The larger town of Hatteras has the most activities and rentals for vacationers, and is a popular destination for anglers.
What Ocracoke Island lacks in square mileage it makes up for in history. Remote and reachable only by ferry, private boat, or private plane, visitors to Ocracoke Island will find there are enough restaurants, shops, and activities to make a nice vacation. History lovers will appreciate the British cemetery, the old fort, and a visit to the site of Blackbeard the pirate’s last stand.
Even though roads connect the islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, each has managed to develop it’s own culture. No matter which one you choose, you’re sure to enjoy your foray into the fascinating history and unspoiled beauty of this special place.
|Photo courtesy of National Geographic Channel|
|Under the Pier in Nags Head|
|Sunrise on the Outer Banks|
We love the natural beauty of the Outer Banks and thank Melissa for sharing her photo skills with us this week on our Memory Monday. Keep in mind you can submit your photo memories of your Outer Banks Vacation to be displayed here each Monday on our blog. Each month we choose one of the entries randomly to win a $100 discount on your next stay with Outer Banks Blue!All the best from the beach!By Tim Cafferty, President, Outer Banks Blue Realty Services
|Nothing better than flying a kite on the OBX!|
We all love sunny days at the Outer Banks with warm temperatures and just a little breeze to keep it just right. When you do find those perfect kite flying days on the beach be sure you have the equipment you need to get the job done….go visit our friends at Kitty Hawk Kites to pick out the perfect setup for you or your loved ones. They have a great selection of kites from the simplest box kites to super complex flyers.So Go Fly A Kite!All the best from the beach!By Tim Cafferty, President, Outer Banks Blue Realty Services