Orthodox Christmas: why some believers celebrate it 13 days after December 25


While much of the world may have Christmas in the rearview mirror by now, people in some Eastern Orthodox traditions will celebrate the holy day on Sunday.

Some Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Russian and other traditions, follow the ancient Julian calendar, which moves 13 days later than the Gregorian calendar, which is used by the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as much of the secular world for everyday use. Let’s do it for.

Other Orthodox, including those with Greek tradition and, now, some Ukrainian churches, celebrate Christmas on the same day as Western churches.

Why are there different dates for Christmas?

Technically, there aren’t. All Eastern Orthodox agree that December 25 is the date of Christmas, or the Feast of Christmas, as they call it. The question is whether 25th December falls on 25th December or 7th January. This requires a little packing.

The ancient Church had set its religious festivals based on the Julian calendar, but after more than a millennium, that calendar had fallen out of alignment with the solar year. The sixteenth-century Pope Gregory XIII approved a revised, more astronomically accurate calendar, which bears his name. This suddenly moved the calendar forward several days to make up for lost time (literally) and added more accurate calculations of leap years. Protestant churches eventually followed the Catholic lead in adopting the calendar, as did secular governments.

All Eastern Orthodox clung to the old calendar until 1923, when an inter-Orthodox gathering adopted a modified Julian calendar that essentially mirrors the Gregorian. Most (but not all) churches of the Greek Orthodox tradition have adopted it, as have also the churches of the Romanian, Bulgarian, and other traditions.

But the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest communion in Eastern Orthodoxy, remains on the old calendar, celebrating Christmas on January 7 on the new calendar, as do Serbian, Georgian and some other Orthodoxy.

Complications in Ukraine

In Ukraine, which traditionally celebrates Christmas on January 7, the matter has taken on a political dimension at a time of war and disunity. government of ukraine Christmas was declared on 25 December in the assertion of national identity and cultural independence from Russia and its confederates at a later date. The new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which received recognition from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 2019, celebrates Christmas on 25 December. Ukrainian Orthodox Church – which claims independence but maintains historical ties with Moscow. Pending legislation faces effective ban – Celebrating Christmas on 7th January.

What about North America?

In the United States, rituals vary – even within traditions. The Orthodox Church in America, as well as the churches of the Greek and Antiochian traditions, celebrate Christmas on December 25. Some churches of the Slavic tradition, including the Serbian and Little Russian churches, will celebrate it on January 7.

In the small American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of North America – which has its roots in present-day Ukraine and Slovakia – parishes can choose their own date. About a third are on the new calendar.

“I have difficulty or enthusiasm in celebrating twice,” said its leader, Metropolitan Gregory of Nyssa, based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Some councils are inspecting Theophany (Epiphany) On Saturday, it marks the baptism of Jesus, while others will celebrate his birth the next day.

How do the Eastern Orthodox celebrate Christmas?

Traditions vary, but typically the big worship service takes place the night before – this year on Saturday night. In Serbian Orthodox churches, worship often begins with a small outdoor ceremony involving the burning of an oak branch or young oak tree, accompanied by a full proclamation of the birth of Jesus Christ.


The Associated Press’s religion coverage receives support from the AP Collaboration With The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.


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