Gauss-Advent Calendar: Christmas in the Orthodox Church
by Mehdi Mnaouar
In Christianity, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th and 25th. Nevertheless, different denominations celebrate Christmas on different days. The reason for this is that the churches fo not use the same calender.
The Orthodox Church
The orthodox religion is an eastern, Christian religion that separated from the western (Roman) Christian religion, the Catholic religion, about a thousand years ago. The number of Orthodox is estimated to be almost 200 million worldwide and is particularly widespread in Greece, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Romania, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia and especially in the former Soviet Union, where they make up 50%.
The term “orthodox” is composed of the Greek word ortos (orthos), meaning truth and justice, and doxa (doxa), meaning faith and opinion. Orthodox thus means true faith.
When do Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas?
Most Christians celebrate Christmas in December. They follow the Gregorian calendar. Orthodox Christians also celebrate Christmas on these days, but they follow the old Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind. Accordingly, the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas referring to the Gregorian calendar on January 6th and 7th.
However, not all Orthodox celebrate Christmas on January 7th. In Greece, for example, also an Orthodox country, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th.
Orthodox Christmas Traditions
In Serbia, on the eve before the Orthodox Christmas, candles are lit and oak branches are traditionally burnt to symbolize Christ’s entry into the world.
In Croatia, the festive bread is honored. It covers a range from fairly simple breads to the richest breads filled with fruit.
In Ukraine, Christmas Eve begins at dusk in the Kiev Cathedral. Candles are lit and people pray for peace and prosperity.
In Russia there is no gift-giving at Christmas. In contrast to the western world, presents are exchanged in Russia on New Year’s Eve.