Orthodox Christmas

Orthodox Christmas: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ According to the Julian Calendar.

Orthodox Christmas, celebrated by Orthodox Christians around the world, marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Unlike the Gregorian calendar used by many Western countries, where Christmas falls on December 25th, Orthodox Christmas is observed on January 7th. This difference arises because many Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar for their liturgical schedule. The Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. The primary focus of Orthodox Christmas is the spiritual significance of the birth of Jesus, with traditions varying significantly across countries such as Russia, Serbia, and Ethiopia. Celebrations typically begin with a 40-day fasting period leading up to Christmas Day, emphasizing preparation and reflection. Festive activities include attending church services, participating in processions, and gathering for family meals. While customs vary, the essence of the holiday is a universal celebration of faith, renewal, and community within the Orthodox Christian world.

Key Traditions of the Orthodox Christmas

  1. Nativity Fast: A 40-day period of fasting and preparation before Christmas, emphasizing spiritual growth and penitence.
  2. Midnight Church Service: Many Orthodox Christians attend a special church service at midnight on Christmas Eve to mark the birth of Jesus.
  3. Holy Supper (Sviata Vecheria): In Ukrainian tradition, a 12-dish meatless meal is served on Christmas Eve, symbolizing the 12 apostles.
  4. Blessing of Water: In some Orthodox traditions, water is blessed on Christmas Day or on Epiphany, commemorating the baptism of Christ.
  5. Caroling (Koleduvane): In Bulgaria and other countries, groups go caroling from house to house, singing and spreading Christmas cheer.
  6. Yule Log: In Serbian tradition, the burning of the Oak tree log, known as Badnjak, on Christmas Eve, symbolizing the warmth and light of Christ.
  7. Christmas Tree: While not originally an Orthodox tradition, decorating a Christmas tree has become popular in many Orthodox Christian homes.
  8. Exchange of Gifts: Reflecting the Magi’s offering to Jesus, gifts are often exchanged on or around Orthodox Christmas.
  9. Feast of St. Basil: In Greek Orthodox tradition, January 1st is dedicated to St. Basil, with special services and the cutting of the Vasilopita cake.
  10. Jordan Water Blessing: In Russian Orthodox practice, water is blessed on the Epiphany, and homes are sprinkled with holy water.

Most Important Works of Literature About the Orthodox Christmas

  1. “The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ” from the Menologion of Basil II: An illuminated manuscript detailing the birth of Christ.
  2. “On the Incarnation” by Saint Athanasius: A foundational Christian text exploring the theological significance of Christ’s incarnation.
  3. “The Winter Pascha” by Thomas Hopko: Exploring the liturgical and spiritual significance of Christmas in the Orthodox Christian tradition.
  4. “The Prologue from Ohrid” by St. Nikolai Velimirovich: Contains lives of saints and hymns of the Orthodox Church, with entries for Christmas period.
  5. “The Life of Christ” by Fulton J. Sheen: While not exclusively Orthodox, it’s revered for its profound reflections on the life of Jesus, including His birth.
  6. “Christmas Stories” by Leo Tolstoy: A collection of short stories by the Russian author that, while not exclusively about Orthodox Christmas, reflect the spirit of the season.

Best Cakes, Cookies, and Sweets for the Orthodox Christmas

  1. Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα): A New Year’s cake from Greece, containing a hidden coin for luck, traditionally cut on St. Basil’s Day.
  2. Kutya (Кутья): A sweet grain pudding from Eastern Europe, made with wheatberries, poppy seeds, and honey, served during the Christmas Eve Holy Supper.
  3. Melomakarona (Μελομακάρονα): Greek honey cookies, spiced with orange and cinnamon, and soaked in a honey syrup, often garnished with walnuts.
  4. Sekerpare: A popular sweet in Turkish Orthodox communities, consisting of semolina-based cookies soaked in syrup.
  5. Pryaniki: Russian spice cookies, typically flavored with honey, ginger, and other spices, often enjoyed during the Christmas season.
  6. Kozulya (Козуля): Traditional Russian Christmas cookies shaped like animals or figures, symbolizing prosperity and well-being.
  7. Sour Cherry Varenyky: A Ukrainian dish of dumplings filled with sour cherries, served as a dessert, embodying the festive spirit.
  8. Serbian Česnica: A ceremonial Christmas bread with a coin baked inside, symbolizing luck and prosperity for the year ahead.
  9. Cozonac: A Romanian and Bulgarian sweet bread, similar to Italian panettone, filled with nuts, cocoa, or Turkish delight, prepared for Christmas.
  10. Christopsomo (Χριστόψωμο): A Greek “Christ’s Bread”, a rich, sweet bread made with spices and decorated with a cross, symbolizing the offering to Christ.

Leave a Comment