While Christmas is over for most, around 260 million people across the world mark the end of the festive season by celebrating it on Jan. 7.
Countries like Egypt, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, and Moldova observe a national holiday on Jan. 7 every year to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.
History Behind Different Dates for Christmas
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas based on the Julian calendar, a solar calendar that Roman ruler Julius Caesar adopted in 46 BC based on the advice of Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes. However, Sosigenes calculations were erroneous as he overestimated the length of the solar year by about 11 minutes, which resulted in the calendar year going out of sync with the solar year as the centuries progressed.
As important Christian holidays began to drift from the dates, Pope Gregory XIII decided to introduce a new calendar called the Gregorian calendar to deal with the inconsistencies. Majority of the Christians around the world accepted the Gregorian calendar and Christmas began to be celebrated on December 25.
However, the Orthodox Church, which does not recognize the Pope as the leader of the church, rejected the proposal and continued the celebration based on the Julian calendar.
Traditions in Orthodox Christmas Celebrations
Fasting: Prayer and fasting is an important part of Orthodox Christmas preparation. Traditionally, Orthodox Christians fast for up to 40 days leading up to Christmas, to prepare themselves for the birth of Jesus Christ. During these days, they abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil.
Religious procession: There are several other different traditions followed by different Orthodox communities around the world. In Georgia and other countries like Romania and Greece, a religious procession called “Alilo” is a major Orthodox Christmas tradition. On Christmas Eve, clergy and people dressed in religious costumes go from door to door, singing Christmas songs, and collecting money and small gifts.
Food: Food is also an important part of Orthodox Christmas celebrations, and the customs vary in different regions. In Russia, a special porridge made from wheat and rice called “Kutya” is made on Christmas Eve and they are eaten often from a communal bowl symbolizing unity. Some parts also have a tradition of throwing food up to the ceiling. It is believed that if it sticks to the ceiling, it will bring good luck.
Ethiopian Orthodox Church members make a stew called “wat,” which is prepared from a rooster that’s divided into 12 parts, symbolizing the 12 apostles, and is eaten along with 12 eggs.
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