Armenia is in southwestern Asia, east of Turkey. Other neighbors are Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Armenians believe Christ's birthday should be celebrated on the same day as His baptism, which is January 6 by our calendar (Gregorian). By the old Julian calendar this date would fall on our January 19. The old Julian calendar is still used by Armenians in the Holy Land to set the date of their Christmas while in Armenia, they celebrate on January 6 (Epiphany) by the Western calendar. At the same time, this date is Christmas Eve on the old Julian calendar and that is when Russia, Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia and other countries east of Rome celebrate the traditional Orthodox Christian Christmas. Confusing? How about the fact that Armenians who live in the United States often celebrate when we do on December 25, using the same calendar that is used by the Western world. After that they have a second celebration on January 6 that is more attuned to the traditional Armenian holiday and turns away from the commercialized celebration held two weeks earlier.

Historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ's birth on January 6th until the fourth century. At that time, the Roman church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany. The Christmas date was selected to undermine and subdue pagan observances dedicated to the birth of the Sun. Armenia was not effected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia on that date. Furthermore, the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of their forefathers, Armenians continue to celebrate Christmas on January 6.

In the Holy Land the Orthodox churches use the old calendar (which has a difference of twelve days) to determine the date of the religious feasts. Accordingly, the Armenians in the Holy Land celebrate Christmas Day on January 19th (our calendar) and the Greek Orthodox people celebrate on January 7th (our calendar).

The Armenians who go by the old traditions, prepare for Christmas with a fast. They eat no meat for a week and no food at all on the last day before Christmas. The fast is broken only after the Christmas Eve service - Badarak, when they return home to a dinner of lamb and rice or Boulgeur Pilav.

Hand cymbals and the human voice are the only music at the Coptic Orthodox Christmas service. As in days of old, women and men sit in separate sections. Incense clouds waft across shafts of sunlight that set gold-plated icons aglow on vaulted apses in the church.

Following the service, the children then go onto the roofs of their homes with handkerchiefs and sing carols. Adults fill the handkerchiefs with presents of raisins or fried wheat and money.

Following the morning service on Christmas Day, the men in the village exchange social calls and are served coffee and sweets. On the third day after Christmas, the women take their turn making and receiving social visits.

In the cities, Christmas decorations can be seen along the streets, on storefronts, and on outdoor Christmas trees. The decorations usually stay up until mid-January.

Music: O Come All Ye Faithful

2002-05 by W. C. Egan

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