For those mourning the end of holiday festivities, there is one more special event available if your heart desires to continue the Christmas cheer.
Orthodox Christmas is globally observed on January 7. Those from Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christian denominations do so as they still follow the Julian calendar, a timeline established under the reign of Julius Caesar. This differs from western sects, who follow the Gregorian calendar, which observes Christmas in the month of December.
Christians from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, with regions ranging from Jerusalem, Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Armenia and more—celebrate on this day with great reverence. As Orthodox communities are deeply rooted in history and tradition, it is not surprising to see these groups focus more on the spiritual significance of the holiday, rather than the commercial excitement
A strict Nativity fast generally eliminates meat and dairy from one’s diet, all in an effort to prepare the heart for the incarnation of Christ, and the welcoming of the world’s Savior. But that is what makes the common midnight service (January 6th into the 7th) an even more memorable experience for Orthodox adherents. As the liturgies conclude and midnight strikes, it is officially Christmas, and officially the time to break the fast together as a congregation.
As Orthodox communities are deeply rooted in history and tradition, it is not surprising to see these groups focus more on the spiritual significance of the holiday, rather than the commercial excitement.
Once the holiday arrives, feasting together allows for a worthwhile celebration, with unique cultural traditions pertaining to each region. Egypt’s popular dish, Fattah, a mixture of rice, egg, meat and pita bread is a staple for the Christmas season. Roasted lamb is common in various Levantine countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Goat is the go-to for countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and freshly baked sugar cookies are common with many devotees, with a great emphasis in Armenian culture. Many candles are also lit during this time to represent the light that has entered the world through Christ.
While Russia contains the largest population of Orthodox Christians in the world, with a globally broadcasted Christmas service, many of its neighboring countries, like Ukraine and Georgia, also recognize the holiday in January, with outdoor parades and street festivals.
And though the calendars and customs may differ from one country to the next, Christmas celebrations continue to be a heavy focal point of the faith. A time where believers are reminded that “peace on earth” might actually be a possibility.