Orthodox Christians in the United States celebrate Christmas a little bit later than everyone else, on January 7. This date falls on December 25 in the Julian Calendar, which existed before the Gregorian Calendar. 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 the United States, so businesses and schools remain open as usual.
While Orthodox Christmas is more widely celebrated in Eastern European countries, Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian communities in the United States who observed Orthodox Christianism also wait until January 7 to celebrate their Christmas. 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 Gregorian calendar was introduced. This means that, technically, Orthodox churches still observe Christmas on December 25.
Orthodox Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, even though his actual birthdate is unknown. Because Orthodox Christmas is celebrated using the old Julian calendar, it is also known as Old Christmas Day.
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 commercialized tradition such as the exchange of presents or decorating the tree. Many people observe a 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 table cloth 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, and dried fruits, cod, biscuits, and honey. Meat is usually avoided.
Orthodox Churches in the United States hold a special liturgy, where they light a fire with palms and burn frankincense in honor of the three wise men's gifts to Jesus.