AROUND twenty miles west of mainland Shetland there is an island called Foula. Three and a half miles long by two miles wide, its current population stands somewhere between 20 and 30 people. There is no pub and no shop other than a post office. And, oh yeah, they celebrate Christmas both on December 25th and January 6th.
The reason for this is because when the rest of Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Foula stuck with the old Julian calendar. The change was made because the Gregorian, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, had a 0.002 per cent correction on the length of the year. The change switched Foula’s calendar 13 days behind the rest of Britain, though this moved up to 12 when the island didn’t have a leap year in 1900.
For that reason December 25th becomes January 6th in the Foula calender. Of course, people on the island do have electricity (since the 1980s) so are aware of what the rest of their country are up to onDecember 25th, so celebrations tend to be split between the two days. The same goes for New Year’s Day.
Foula used to have a more expansive population but the number of inhabitants dwindled down after losing the mailboat Island Lass in 1962, but a hardy number remained, building a makeshift air strip to land small planes and keeping their traditions for future generations.
Nearby Fair Isle, which has around three times the population, is also said to have some inhabitants who follow this unusual Christmas tradition, though it is not as all-inclusive as it is on Foula.
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