The Shetland island of Foula has continued to follow the Julian calendar, going back to the Romans, long after the rest of the country gave it up.
The residents of Great Britain’s remotest inhabited island will celebrate Christmas on January 6, nearly a fortnight after the rest of the UK and much of the world in accordance with a centuries-old tradition.
The 30 or so people who live on the island of Foula in Shetland celebrate their winter festivals according to the Julian calendar, which was abandoned by the rest of Scotland in 1600 and was last observed in 1752 in England and Ireland when the Gregorian calendar was adopted.
Foula adhered to the Julian calendar by keeping 1800 as a leap year, but it did not observe a leap year in 1900. As a result, Foula is now one day ahead of the Julian calendar and 12 days behind the Gregorian, celebrating Christmas on January 6 and New Year on January 13.
Every Christmas Day, all the islanders congregate in one house where they exchange gifts and sing songs. The group includes ten children.
Inhabitants of the island, which is situated 200 miles north of John O’Groats in Scotland, and twenty miles west south west of the other Shetland islands, preserve a strong Norse cultural tradition of music, festive foods and folklore tales. Their ancestors spoke Norn, an ancient form of the Old Norse language, until the start of the 19th century.
The northern isles were acquired by the Scottish Crown in 1469-72 as part of the marriage settlement of King James III and his Queen Margaret of Denmark. Foula itself remained under Norse udal law till the late 16th century (when Scottish laird Robert Cheyne acquired Foula from the last Norse owner, Gorvel Fadersdatter), the Old Norse language was commonly spoken until the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The island’s Old Norse (ON) name is Fugla-ey – ‘bird island’; Noup is gnípr – a steep mountain with overhanging top; and Kame is kambr – a comb or crested ridge of hills. The last person to speak Norn was thought to be Jeannie Ratter (née Manson), who died in 1926.
Jacob Jacobsen, the Faroese linguist, visited Foula in 1894. He "found the folk lively, intelligent and of excellent memory" and corresponded with Robert Gear for many years. At the end of the 19th century, the island supported over 250 people.
Adapted by the Clever Boy from an article on the website of The Independent, from Wikipedia and from the website shetlandvisitor.com