The Holy Land is unique in celebrating Christmas three times; on December 25th, January 6th and January 19th.
Orthodox Nativity With snow predicted to fall in Jerusalem on Wednesday, it may very well be a white Christmas for Orthodox Christians.
While the rest of the world enjoys their after-Christmas sales, in the Holy Land, two more Christmas holidays are yet to come. The Holy Land is unique in celebrating Christmas three times Dec. 25 (Catholics and Protestants), Jan. 6 (Orthodox) and Jan. 19 (Armenian Orthodox only in Jerusalem)– more than any other place in the world.
Two calendars – Three holidays Due to calendar differences most Orthodox Churches including the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian celebrate nativity on January 6 and 7, which is the date known as “Old Christmas Day” because this is the date that the first Christian emperor, Constantine, assigned as the date of Christ’s birth in 325. Then, in 350 Pope Julius declared that Christmas would be celebrated on January 6. When Pope Gregory made the switch to the Gregorian calendar (named in his honor) in 1576 and 13 days were ‘lost’ in the switch, which is why Christmas was moved to December 25 for Latin Catholics.
Christian Orthodoxy did not follow the calendar change for another 200 years yet they still kept the original January 6th date. Meanwhile the Armenian Church in Jerusalem decided to hold onto the original January 6 date and then added the lost days to it which is why their Christmas is on January 18 and 19.
Orthodox Christians follow many unique traditions in their celebration of Christmas, such as the holy fasting that occurs for between 40 and 25 days. The fast generally includes abstaining from meat products, and certain foods such as kidney beans, garlic, Lenten bread, nuts and fresh dried fruits. Special foods such as baked cod are traditionally eaten as part of the holiday.
The Christmas tree tradition originates from a pagan tradition for Latin Catholics. However, for Orthodox Christians, the tree possesses biblical significance as it is a reminder of the paradise tree of fruit found in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.
Even the tradition of what Latin Catholics refer to as Santa Claus is different for Orthodox Christians who, instead, celebrate St. Nicholas on Orthodox Christmas. St. Nicholas was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, also known as ‘Nikolaos of Myra’ (in modern day Turkey).
Moreover, Orthodox Christians place much significance on Christmas songs or canons. These are sung from the Holy Day of “Vavedenje” on the December 4, until the January 13, which is the Day of the New Year and is often called Small Christmas. Just as New Years Eve is celebrated on December 31, all Orthodox Christians celebrate New Year’s Eve on January 13. This is because Orthodox churches situated in Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar.
Armenians have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. They were the first community to adopt Christianity in 301 AD. Today the Armenian population living in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City totals around 2,000 residents.