For Some Orthodox Christians, Christmas is Coming This Week

Christmas is over for many, but there are some Orthodox Christians who are looking forward to celebrating at the end of this week. Instead of using the Gregorian calendar, which is used by most of the secular for business purposes, and by many Christian sects to mark their feast days and religions observances, Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar. (Although some Orthodox sects use a revised Julian calendar that places Christmas at about the same time as what we see with non-Orthodox sects.)

As a result, the date of Christmas usually falls sometime around January 7th on the Gregorian calendar for some Orthodox churches. Indeed, while some parents put off Christmas until January for financial reasons, there are plenty of families celebrating Christmas in January as part of the normal course of events. The Orthodox churches that celebrate Christmas in January include:

  • The Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  • Georgia
  • Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Ukraine

Amongst Armenian churches, the celebration of Christmas is split according to the calendar used (those that use the Julian calendar often celebrate in conjunction with the Theopany feast around January 19th on the Gregorian calendar). And it is worth noting that the American Apostolic Church celebrates the nativity and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

Orthodox Christmas Traditions

Because Orthodox Christian churches are, in large part, national, many of the traditions are related to the individual countries involved. Traditional gifts, foods consumed and other trappings of Christmas usually vary according to culture.

One of the common traditions is that of eating pierogi. These dumplings are quite common throughout Eurasia, and consist of dough stuffed with something else — commonly potatoes. Most of us in the West recognize the Polish spelling of the dumplings — pierogi (plural) — but the dumplings, under different names, are common in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European states. As a result, they are a popular dish amongst some of the Orthodox sects at Christmas time.

Among the more interesting and fun traditions used at Christmas in Serbia is the badnjak. This is a log placed on the fire on Christmas Eve (similar to a Yule log). The family’s head, along with other male relatives, head out in the morning of Christmas Eve — often shooting guns or firing off mortars designed for celebration. A ritual is involved in cutting down the tree, involving a phrase of greeting to the tree, as well as a prayer and a kiss for the tree. The tree is cut down in a certain way, and it is introduced into the house with more ritual.

In Russia, grand public Christmas celebrations were not seen from 1917 until 1992, due to the banning of religious observances following the Revolution, although many families celebrated privately. In Russia, one of the highlights is the Holy Supper. Traditionally, the meal is meatless — Lenten in nature. Even without the meat, though, Holy Supper is supposed to be festive, including 12 different types of foods (representing the 12 apostles).

There are many more Christmas customs in the Orthodox tradition that are fascinating and offer insight into the rich cultural history of those that observe.

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