Eastern Orthodox Christmas (January 7th), or the Feast of the Nativity, is the holiday that marks the birth of Jesus Christ, of the Christian god made flesh.
It is much like Christmas in the West – Christmas trees, gift-giving, feasting, special food, song and church services, a Father Christmas figure, etc. The main difference is the date and the fasting that leads up to it.
Dates (on the Gregorian calendar):
- December 25th: Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, US.
- January 7th: Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova and Montenegro.
Other eastern Christians, not just the Eastern Orthodox, also observe Christmas on January 7th: those in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and many in the Arab world.
Why January 7th? Because those churches still use the old Julian calendar to set religious holidays, not the Gregorian calendar used by Catholics and Protestants. January 7th on the Gregorian calendar is December 25th on the Julian calendar (from 1900 to 2099).
Julian calendar: The Julian calendar is the Roman calendar as reformed by Julius Caesar. Under the Roman Empire it became the calendar used by Christian churches.
Gregorian calendar: By 1582 the Julian calendar had fallen 11 days behind the sun. Easter was falling too late in the spring. Pope Gregory XIII, with some help from Copernicus, reformed it giving us the Gregorian calendar. It became the calendar of Catholics in the 1500s, of Protestants by the 1700s (which is why George Washington has two birthdays) and of most governments worldwide by the 1900s. But not most eastern churches. In the meantime the Julian calendar has fallen 13 days behind. In 2100 will be 14 days behind.
Fasting: instead of partying, the Eastern Orthodox church recommends fasting, prayer and acts of charity as the best way to prepare one’s mind, body and soul for the day of Christ’s birth. That means not eating meat and certain other foods for the 40 days before Christmas, especially on the day of Christmas Eve till the stars come out at night. Then it is time to feast and sing Christmas carols!
The celebration can last up to three days:
- January 6th: Christmas Eve, celebrating the Birth of Christ and the Adoration of the Shepherds.
- January 7th: Christmas: celebrating the Adoration of the Magi.
- January 8th: Feast of the Theotokos, Mary as the Mother of God.
And then, on the 12th day of Christmas, is Theophany or the Baptism of Christ, called Epiphany in the West. In Armenia it is bigger than Christmas.
In Greece, Easter is a bigger holiday than Christmas.
In Russia, the world’s biggest Eastern Orthodox country, New Year’s is a bigger deal than Christmas. That is because godless communists had outlawed Christmas from 1917 to 1990. Those who celebrated it did so in secret – it was no longer a big public holiday. Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter Snow Maiden (pictured below), who used to give gifts to children on Christmas, moved their activities to New Year’s. So did many others. Christmas has since made a comeback, but New Year’s is stil the bigger holiday.
– Abagond, 2017.
- Eastern Orthodox
- Christmas – the US sort
- Ramadan – a month of fasting and then a big holiday
- Gregorian calendar
- Jesus Christ