YEREVAN, Armenia — While Christmas falls on December 25 for many of the world’s Christians, in my country, we celebrate it on January 6.
We have many traditions that would feel familiar to Christians in other lands. We attend church, light candles, make special foods, and put out our shoes so the Wise Men can leave us presents.
Our celebration, however, marks the original date for celebrating the birthday of Jesus.
Until the 4th century, many Christians around the world used January 6 to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Then the date was changed December 25th in order to override pagan sun festivals celebrated around that time.
Since some Christians continued to observe the pagan festivities, early church leaders in some places, including Rome, wanted to undermine and subdue this pagan practice by combining them with a celebration of the birth of Christ.
So the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany.
Since the Armenian Christians didn’t have the problem that the Romans and the Orthodox Christians had, the Armenians continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6, just as we have since the first century.
So for us, Christmas Eve is January 5, and Christmas Day Mass and the celebrations start in the morning on January 6th.
On Christmas Eve and the next morning, Armenians greet each other with Christmas greetings.
Qristos tsnav ev haitnetsav, Orhneal e haitnutun@ Qristosi, we say, which means, “Christ is born and revealed, Blessed is the revelation of Christ.”
The center of the Armenian Apostolic Church is located in the city of Etchmiadzin, and it is the main cathedral of the Armenian church.
Built in 303, holy Etchmiadzin is like a magnet for millions of Armenians spread around the world.
Each year, during Christmas, the head of the Armenian church, currently Katholikos Karekin II sends his traditional Christmas message to all the Armenian faithful around the world.
On January 5th, everyone goes to church at sunset and brings lighted candles home with them.
The church service is followed by a huge fish or seafood-based dinner at home, with a special dessert decorated with a star of slivered almonds to symbolize the Nativity Star guiding the Wise Men.
Everyone in the family puts their shoes outside their doorway that evening, hoping for the special candies, pomegranates and small presents that are sure to be in them in the morning, left by the Wise Men in remembrance of the Nativity.
Children, most of all, like this tradition, but some adults follow it as well.
On January 6, Surp Dznund (Christmas, or The Holy Birth), of course means eating more food.
Armenians start fasting, or abstaining from meat, on December 30. The holy fast ends on Christmas when meat is again allowed on the table.
Family members usually give gifts to each other on New Year Day, but on Christmas, they also give each other some sweets and cakes.
Narine Daneghyan is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.