Ocracoke Christmases in the twenty-first century are a combination of traditional and modern elements.

Each season sees an increase in lighted decorations.  Some folks, especially down the Bank Road, go all out with colored lights mounted on fences, wrapped around trees, lining driveways, and outlining roofs.

Commercially grown trees are now imported and sold at the Variety Store.  Santa Claus comes to visit at a children’s holiday party at the Community Center, in the local grocery store, and even at the Methodist & Assembly of God churches.  Christmas carols are played in the few stores and shops that are open this time of year.

Years ago, of course, there was no electricity on the island.  A family here and there might put a candle in the front window, but other than that and maybe a hand-made wreath decorating a porch or two there was little outdoors to remind folks of the upcoming holiday.

The Homer & Aliph Howard Home, with locally made cedar wreath, 2004:

Most islanders would put up and decorate a local cedar, one they cut wherever they found an appropriately shaped and sized tree.  And wherever they knew the landowner would not object.

Times were often hard, and money scarce.  Local general merchandise stores would stock toys and other gifts for Christmas giving, but generally children were fortunate to receive even one significant toy — maybe a doll or a store-bought ball.

My father remembered hanging up a stocking one Christmas Eve when he was a young boy, and discovering the next morning a fresh orange down in the toe.  He was so delighted with his one Christmas present from Santa that he played with it for days, rolling it back and forth on the floor with his brothers and sisters.  Eventually he cut it up and savored the juicy fruit, a rare treat on the island nearly a hundred years ago.

The United States, along with other predominantly Protestant countries, was slow in adopting the calendar reforms proposed by Pope Gregory in 1582.  In fact Great Britain and the American colonies continued to follow the older Julian calendar for nearly 200 more years, not adopting the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

Many communities and individuals refused to acknowledge the reforms even then, although 11 days had been eliminated by the British Parliament in order to realign the old calendar with the solar year.

The “Old Style” reckoning continued in practice in many places along the Outer Banks, particularly in the Hatteras Island village of Rodanthe, where Old Christmas is still celebrated with a community pot luck and the late-night appearance of “Old Buck,” a carryover from old England.

Old Christmas now falls on January 07 (on the Gregorian calendar) because the Julian year is 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the actual solar year, a difference that increases the gap year after year and now accounts for a13 day discrepancy between the two calendars.

On Ocracoke the last native folks to keep Old Christmas were members of the Styron family.  It has been more than fifty years since they refused to acknowledge the modern Christmas, but even today the Frum-Lovejoy family celebrates both holidays on the island.  Nowadays the January date is recognized by them as a celebration of the visit of the Magi.

Some islanders have added an even more ancient mid-winter festival to our holiday activities.  The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, occurs because of the tilt of our planet’s axis.  In the winter the earth is tilted away from the sun, causing the sun to rise later in the morning, remain closer to the horizon, and set earlier in the evening.

Ancient cultures, unaware of the cause of the changing seasons, waited anxiously as the days grew shorter, then rejoiced as they realized that yet again the sun began to climb higher in the sky.  The solstice had passed, and spring, with it’s longer days and warmer weather, would greet the tribe once again.

Perhaps it is because Ocracoke remains closely connected with the weather and the seasons that we are keenly aware of natural cycles.

So nowadays, Ocracoke will have Christmas programs at the local churches, a live nativity scene in front of the Methodist church, a wassail party at the Preservation museum, visits from Santa Claus, pot lucks and mid-winter parties (especially the community-wide get-together at Jimmy’s Garage on December 11 where hundreds of islanders will gather to celebrate, eat, drink, dance, and be merry), as well as gatherings of family and friends to celebrate their religious heritage and the cycle of the natural world.

From all of us at Village Craftsmen we extend our warmest wishes to you for the merriest and happiest December holiday, whether Christmas, Chanukah, or Winter Solstice; and for peace in the New Year.


Winter Greetings & Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Village Craftsmen!

Congratulations are in order for several Village Craftsmen employees:

— Mary Brown, and her husband, Matt, and their daughter, Elicia, on the birth of Mary & Matt’s second child, Hannah Rae.

— Travis and April Brown on the birth of their first child, Ava.

— And, of course, for Jude & Frank Brown, proud grandparents.

We wish them all the best as their family grows.

In spite of the cold (it’s actually been below freezing several days these past few months), the normal winter quietude, and the repercussions from Hurricane Isabel & other winter storms, islanders are starting to make preparations for warmer weather with the expectation of another busy summer season.

No one is neglecting to savor  these last few weeks of the “off-season,” but folks are beginning to look ahead.  Residents and business owners are making repairs to their homes and shops.  People are removing the last of the trees that toppled during the hurricane.  And, business managers are assessing their inventories and placing their spring orders.

Several restaurants and other businesses, including Village Craftsmen, will be open Valentine’s weekend, and perhaps during the week as well.  Please stop by and say hello if you plan to be on the island.

As I mentioned in our last newsletter, my big project for this year is the rehabilitation of my grandparents’ 1860’s era home, just around the corner from Village Craftsmen.

The Homer & Aliph Howard Home ca. 1932:


I have created a new web page with more information about this project. Click here to read more and to view vintage photos of this property as well as current photos (both inside and outside) documenting our progress.

Until next time, we wish you well, and hope to see you on your next visit to Ocracoke.

Philip and the entire staff of Village Craftsmen


Happy Holidays to all of our friends!

Ocracoke Lighthouse in a Winter Snow, 2002
Ocracoke Lighthouse Snow

As the depth of winter envelopes us we often come together with family and friends to pass through this season of long nights with meaningful rituals.

On Ocracoke, as elsewhere, many folks decorate their homes with lights and greens.

Ocracoke Christmas Decorations
Sue O'Niel's House

The Ocracoke Preservation Society hosted its annual Tree Lighting & Wassail Party on Friday, December 13.  The term “wassail” comes from the Old Norse language meaning “to be well or healthy.”  Today it refers to a traditional English toast to someone’s health, as well as to a hot drink made with cider, spices, and sugar.  Wassail is traditionally served in a large punch bowl during the Christmas season.  Although “wassail” can refer to riotous drinking and revelry, Ocracoke Preservation Society (OPS) normally hosts a rather mild gathering.

On Saturday, December 14, OPS also sponsored the second annual Historic District House Tour.  Eight homes were represented and over two hundred residents and visitors walked, biked, or drove through the village for an opportunity to view some of Ocracoke’s historic structures.

Later that evening, Jimmy & Linda Jackson and Jamie Jackson opened up their garage for another community Christmas party & pot luck dinner. Several hundred residents were there to share food, drink, stories, music and dance.

Tables filled with food line the garage

Paula visits with David as he readies his fiddle
David and Paula

A friend makes a special guest appearance

Several of us also gathered on December 22 for our second annual solstice pot luck dinner.

As we now know, of course, the earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June — by three million miles.

The seasons of our year, therefore, are caused not  by the proximity of the earth to the sun, but by the 23.5º tilt of the earth’s axis. The angle of the earth’s rays to the surface of the earth varies based on how far the surface is tilted toward or away from the sun. 

At 8:14 pm EST, December 22, 2002, the northern hemisphere of the earth was tilted furthest away from the perpendicular angle.  This is the winter solstice — the first day of winter, when the sun appears lowest in the sky and night time hours are maximum.  The tilt also causes the seasons to be reversed in the southern hemisphere.

We continued last year’s tradition of crowning Ocracoke’s Monarch of the Winter Solstice.  Last year we followed a medieval tradition and baked a bean in a holiday cake.  Pat Tweedie, mother of Molasses Creek’s fiddler Dave, found the bean in her dessert and was crowned Queen in 2001.  This year we drew lots and Blanche Howard Jolliff was honored with a throne, a staff, a royal robe and a star-studded crown.

Blanche, Queen of the Solstice, 2002
Solstice Queen

In other news, the Ocracoke Assembly of God church held their annual Christmas program on Sunday, December 22.  The Methodist church hosted a live nativity on the church lawn this holiday, and conducted a traditional Christmas eve candlelight service.  Christmas caroling, again this year, was a joint venture of the Methodist and Assembly churches.  Caroling was on December 20.

Of course, the days will now be gradually lengthening, the sun will be rising higher and higher into the sky each day, and within a few months we will be looking for the first robins and the early signs of new growth.

All of us at Village Craftsmen join me in wishing you and yours the happiest of wintertime holidays and the very best in the coming new year.

Hoping to see you again soon,

Philip, Dallie, Jude, Amy, Mary and Leon