When I was a child growing up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, the sixth of January was not called Epiphany or even the twelfth day of Christmas, which it was. (Forget about the twelve drummers drumming. We didn’t have many drummers parading through our frosty fields even though people still fired off their shotguns at midnight of New Year’s Eve.)
No, the sixth of January was called “old Christmas” as opposed to “new Christmas” on December 25th. This was when we usually took our tree down. It was also when we went back to a regular laundry day.
For some reason, the old people in our community, the ones who planted by the signs of the almanac, believed that if you washed your bed linens between new Christmas and old, someone dear to you would die that year. In my short story “Fruitcake, Mercy, and Black-Eyed Peas,” Deborah Knott describes her Aunt Zell’s feeling on the matter:
She swears she isn’t superstitious; all the same, if I want to wash clothes between new Christmas and old Christmas, she starts fussing about having to wash shrouds for a corpse in the coming year. I’ve tried to tell her it’s only if you wash bedclothes, but she won’t run the risk. Or the washer.
Rather than argue about it every year, I just wait till she’s gone.
I’m not a hundred percent sure that the women in my family actually believed this or if it made a convenient reason not to have to hang out sheets in the dead of winter and have them freeze on the line. (For what it’s worth, no one in my family had ever owned a dryer until my son bought a house with one. When dryers first came into vogue, they were expensive and sunshine was free. I’ve never bothered with one because I like the smell of line-dried clothes and am willing to put up with the occasional inconveniences to achieve it.)
More than anything else though, old Christmas is when I finally admit that the holidays are over and that it’s time to get back to work. I’m 2000 words into the 2011 book. Only 68,000 words to go!
Happy 2010, everyone!