Old Christmas: Historic Clay Hill Church hosts traditional candlelight service to end season
Published 3:00 am Friday, January 8, 2016
Although the road leading to historic Clay Hill Church was closed, people still made their way to the annual Old Christmas at Clay Hill service on Wednesday.
The Rev. Ed Shirley, pastor of Brundidge United Methodist Church, said Old Christmas at Clay Hill occurs on Epiphany, which means revelation or enlightenment of God’s plan for mankind.
“The Old Christmas is a connection to the birth of Jesus and to all saints throughout the ages,” Shirley said. “It is a special connection to early American life and is an opportunity to worship in a simple, rustic kind of way. Old Christmas at Clay Hill is nostalgic and a wonderfully quiet way to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Wise Men.”
The service celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men to worship the Christ Child, the commemoration of which occurs annually on Jan. 6, also known as Old Christmas Day or the Epiphany.
Some traditions say the celebration started in 1752 when England and Scotland switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Eleven days were dropped so in subsequent years, Christmas was celebrated 11 days earlier.
Many people, especially, those in rural areas, continued to recognize the holidays of the Julian calendar so Jan. 6 became known as Old Christmas.
Lawrence Bowden has participated in Old Christmas as a Wise Man since BUMC began the celebration nearly 20 years ago.
“Old Christmas is a service that I look forward to every year,” Bowden said. “It’s inspiring – the scriptures and the songs – and it’s a fitting end to the Christmas season.”
Bowden said being one of the Wise Men is a simple thing but it’s an honor to be a part of hearing the story of the Christ Child’s birth and the arrival of the Wise Men.
“Old Christmas is a recalling of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth,” he said. “The Wise Men or the Three Kings came to worship Baby Jesus and brought gifts to honor him. When they left, they went another way so as not to endanger the Christ Child. That’s a wonderful story and one worth telling again and again.”
Each year, BUMC church invites a couple with an infant to participate in the Old Christmas at Clay Hill service as Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus.
Mike and Dava Foster said they were honored and humbled to be a part of the service. “It was a beautiful service and it was humbling to play such an important part in the service,” Mike Foster said. “It was a night that we’ll always remember. Chase won’t remember being Baby Jesus, but we’ll tell him about it and how special it was for us to be there with him and to worship in an atmosphere like they worshiped a long time ago.”
Old Christmas at Clay Hill is an annual lantern-light service held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 at the historic one-room church at Clay Hill near Pronto. The benches are a little hard and the weather is usually cold but Bowden said hearts are warmed by the stories.
and songs of Old Christmas.