For the Eastern Orthodox Church, Christmas is a time of celebration and joy. It is a time to celebrate with family, to make merry, to participate in traditions, and to decorate your home. The best way to observe Orthodox Christmas is to attend an Orthodox Christmas service and participate in the holiday celebrations with other Orthodox Christians.
In some Eastern Orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 instead of December 25. While the western Christian calendar focuses on December 25, the Orthodox calendar focuses on January 7. This is the traditional day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Russia, Serbia, Macedonia, and other Orthodox Christian countries observe this holiday on January 7.
The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the western world, but Orthodox churches have always tended to use the Julian calendar. Originally named for Julius Caesar, the Julian calendar dominated the Christian world for centuries. However, the Catholic Church began shortening the year in the sixteenth century and gradually adopted the Gregorian calendar. In 1582, most Western Catholic states adopted the Gregorian calendar.
While the Gregorian calendar has solved these problems, many Orthodox Christians still follow the traditional Julian calendar. In fact, the Julian calendar contains the original dates of many Christian observances before the Gregorian calendar was introduced. This calendar was eventually adopted by most of the Christian world. But the Orthodox Church remained divided from the Roman Catholic Church during the Great Schism of 1054, and in protest, rejected the Gregorian calendar.
Traditionally, every Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on December 25. However, the Eastern Orthodox calendar has a different celebration called Pascha, which is a day on which all Orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. The Orthodox Church also observes an Advent season during the months of November and December, which is a time of charity and fasting.
While Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on the same day as Christians in the Western world, their traditions vary widely. For example, some celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead of December 25, while others observe Christmas on the first day of the New Year. In most cases, the day that Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas is the same as the one that Catholics celebrate.
In Eastern Orthodox countries, the Julian calendar is used for day-to-day life but is switched back to the Gregorian calendar during holy celebrations. For example, the day of Epiphany falls on January 19 for Orthodox Christians, while Catholics celebrate it on January 6. This day is marked by the custom of throwing crucifixes into lakes or rivers. Other customs during this time include putting up street puppets and performing “Vertep” or nativity plays.
Orthodox Christians also observe a fast during the Nativity season. On Christmas Eve, they typically prepare twelve lean dishes, including oplatka, a flat thin bread used to serve communion to parishioners. Then, on Christmas Day, they serve a traditional meat meal.
The Eastern Orthodox Church moved Christmas to December 25 in the second half of the 4th century. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The Gregorian calendar added permanent holidays and corrected the growing desynchronization of the Julian calendar and the astronomical year. Despite this change, however, some Orthodox churches, like the Russian Orthodox Church, continued to use the Julian calendar.
Dates for Christmas for the Eastern Orthodox church vary a bit from the Gregorian calendar. For example, while the Gregorian calendar marks Christmas as December 25, the Eastern Orthodox celebrate the holiday on January 7. This is because the Julian calendar was used for the first part of the church’s history, before the Gregorian calendar was used as the global standard.
The dates for Christmas have varied for centuries, partly due to different calendars used to calculate dates. Before the sixteenth century, the Roman Empire followed the Julian calendar, which miscalculated the length of the solar year by about 11 minutes. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory. By that time, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the Catholic Low Countries were using this calendar.
Some Orthodox countries celebrate Christmas on 25 December, while others still celebrate Epiphany and Christmas on the sixth of January. Among these, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas and Epiphany on the same day. The Armenian Orthodox Church, for example, uses the Gregorian calendar to mark these events.
In the Armenian Orthodox Church, Christmas Day is celebrated on January 6, which is the original date until the fourth century. During the festive liturgy on Christmas Eve, a lighted candle representing the Star of Bethlehem is lit and placed in the center of the church. Throughout this season, believers in the Orthodox church are required to pray in honor of Jesus Christ. Some churches hold longer church services during this time, while others hold shorter ones.