Orthodox Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas a little bit later than everyone else, on January 7 . Orthodox Christmas also celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God. This holiday differs from Christmas Day because it does not observe Pagan traditions, like waiting for gifts from Santa Claus and decorating a tree. Instead, it focuses on religious customs.
Orthodox Christmas is not a public holiday in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada so businesses and schools remain open as usual. However, many countries such as Egypt, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Moldova observe a national holiday to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.
While Orthodox Christmas is more widely celebrated in Eastern European countries, Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian communities in the United States who are followers of the Orthodox Church also wait until January 7 to celebrate their Christmas. However, the Greek Orthodox Church does not observe Christmas on January 7.
Christmas falls on a different day in the Orthodox Church because they still observe the traditional Julian calendar, which has the original dates for Christian celebrations.
Before the 16th century, Roman ruler Julius Caesar adopted and used a solar calendar known as the Julian Calendar to mark the dates. However, it was later realized that this calendar had many errors. This is why Pope Gregory XIII came up with the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
However, Orthodox churches did not accept the new Gregorian calendar and continued to follow the old Julian Calendar, which had January 7 as the birth date of Christ. According to the new calendar, the Jewish holiday Passover and Easter could fall on the same day in some years. This was unacceptable to the Orthodox Christians.
This holiday is also known as Old Christmas Day because it follows the old Julian calendar.
Orthodox Christmas Customs and Traditions
Orthodox Christmas focuses on religious rituals and traditions. It is a time to find peace and unity and heal the soul. As such, they do not observe materialistic or commercialized traditions such as the exchange of presents or decorating the tree. Many people observe 43 days fast before Orthodox Christmas day and give up things such as meat and dairy.
Instead of colorful and bright decorations, Orthodox Christians decorate their table with a white tablecloth that symbolizes the cloth that Jesus was wrapped in when he was born. Some also put candles and straw decorations up to represent the nativity scene.
Orthodox Christmas is all about peace and calm. The Orthodox Christmas meal is known as the Holy Supper, and some traditional foods eaten on the day are mushroom soup, porridge, Lenten bread, nuts, dried fruits, cod, biscuits, and honey. Meat is usually avoided.
Orthodox Churches in the United States hold a special liturgy (public worship), where they light a fire with palms and burn frankincense in honor of the three wise men's gifts to Jesus.
If you want to learn more about the Gregorian calendar and the transition to it from the Julian Calendar you can visit our articles on the subject: