‘Old Christmas’ celebrated at Clay Hill

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, January 8, 2019

In a small country church in rural Pike County, Christmas came to a quiet, meaningful close Sunday night, Old Christmas night.

The church was lighted by lamps and simply decorated with cedar, holly and berries. The music was played on acoustic instruments, a lap dulcimer and a box guitar. The songs were the traditional carols of Christmas.

For more than 20 years, Old Christmas has been celebrated at historic Clay Hill Church which was founded nearly 150 years ago in the Pronto community.

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The Old Christmas at Clay Hill service was probably not much different from the services at Clay Hill in those long-ago years, said Lawrence Bowden, who has portrayed one of the Wise Men throughout the years. “I imagine, too that the setting is much like it was in the stable where Jesus was born – dimly lit, no heat, the smell of fresh-cut hay and only stars to light the dark night. I don’t think Old Christmas would be the same in any setting other than Clay Hill.

“Old Christmas is spiritual in a way that you have to be there to really understand.”

And on the night, the Christ Child was born, as Shelia Jackson sang, “Sweet, Little Jesus Boy, we didn’t know who He was. Didn’t know you’d come to save us all, to take our sins away…”

“Singing at Old Christmas is always special to me,” Jackson said. “It’s a spiritual service and the way Christmas should be and a wonderful way to close out the Christmas season.”

For Nellie Sue Helms, Old Christmas is a Christmas tradition.

“Old Christmas tells the entire Christmas story,” she said. “We hear, once again, the story of Jesus’ birth and also hear more about the Wise Men and how they followed the star in the east to worship the Baby Jesus. It is a beautiful service of scriptures and songs.”

Frank and Wynnette Fryer make their annual pilgrimage from Illinois to Brundidge as often as possible in time to attend Old Christmas at Clay Hill.

Frank Fryer’s great-great grandfather, Reverend Baker, donated the land for the church, helped build the church and preached from the pulpit. The family connection is a reason for the Fryers to attend the Old Christmas service, but the real reason they want to be there is the opportunity to be celebrate Christmas the way it should be celebrated, “in a quiet and meaningful way, with stories and songs about our Savior.”

Darrell Parker and his wife Judy were among those who experienced Old Christmas at Clay Hill for the first time Sunday night.

“The service was a special and unique worship experience to end the Christmas season,” Darrell Parker said. “We highly recommend it for those who have not had the opportunity to experience it.”