Why Do Orthodox Celebrate Christmas On January 7th? Not Everyone Believe Jesus Was Born on Dec 25
Orthodox celebrate Christmas on January 7th instead of December 25th because they follow Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian.
Christmas is an annual festival usually celebrated on the 25th of December to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the spiritual leader of Christianity.
The Bible does not say that Christ was born on the day we celebrate Christmas. The date was chosen to be celebrated as his birthday. When Christmas was declared to be a holiday, the date, December 25 set by Pope Julius I was formalized in 529 AD. The festival is also marked as a cultural holiday across the globe. It is celebrated throughout the world among billions of people and is considered a public holiday in various countries.
The name Christmas derives from the word Cristes maesse, which in Old English means Christ's Mass referring to the Catholic tradition of having a special ceremony to celebrate Jesus. Christians as well as many non-Christians celebrate the holiday by giving gifts, decorating the Christmas trees, having family and social gatherings, watching Christmas movies, and creating a festive dinner table.
Even though Western Christianity and a part of Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on December 25, not everyone celebrates on that date. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem celebrates Christmas on January 19. Most Oriental Orthodox and a part of the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate on the 7th of January.
Why Do Orthodox Celebrate Christmas On January 7th?
Orthodox celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January because they follow the Julian calendar that denotes the birth of Jesus Christ.
About 12% of the world celebrates Christmas a little later than everyone else, on January 7.
The Orthodox Church uses the almost 2000 years old calendar which is different from the one that is used today by the world.
The Roman ruler Julius Caesar adopted and used the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. as advised by the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes attempting to clean Rome's messy lunar calendar. However, it turned out that the calendar advised by Sosigenes had its issues. It overestimated the length of the lunar calendar by approximately eleven minutes.
The solar year and the calendar were more and more out of sync as the centuries passed. The dates of the holiday drifted a lot by 1582. Pope Gregory XIII grew concerned and proposed a new calendar that was advised by another astronomer. The new calendar suggested was the Gregorian calendar.
With the help of the newly proposed Gregorian calender, various issues have been tackled over the years. The majority of the Christian world adopted the calendar. However, the Orthodox Church objected to the change as it had its own arm of Christianity at the Great Schism of 1054.
The Orthodox community was against the new calendar as Passover and Easter at times overlapped. This overlap was against the texts of Orthodox Christianity. Therefore, the church rejected the new calendar and relied on the previous Julian calendar.
After centuries of using different calendars, there was a difference of thirteen days, and Christmas was celebrated 13 days after December 25. A group of Orthodox leaders came together to address the issue based on the use of different calendars. Milutin Milankovic, a Serbian scientist, put forth a solution to the problem. He suggested following a new version of the Julian calendar that shared dates with the Gregorian calendar.
It was adopted by many churches in Greece, Romania, and Cyprus. The ones who agreed to Milankovic's suggestion celebrate Christmas on December 25. However, the Orthodox churches of Egypt and Russia refused his suggestion. Some countries followed the suggestion and dropped it later. The countries that do not follow the new Julian calendar celebrate Christmas on January 7.
What is the Julian Calendar?
Julian Calendar is a system made as a reform of the Roman republican calendar by Julius Caesar. It is also known as the Old Style calendar. It is a lunar calendar based on moon phases. With the complications of the Roman civic calendar being three months ahead of the solar calendar, the Julian calendar was introduced as an alternative.
According to the Julian Calendar, a year is divided into twelve months and each month has 30 to 31 days except for February which had 28 days and 365 days in total in a year. Every 4th year is considered a leap year which contains 364 days. In the Julian calendar, February 23 was repeated for the leap years instead of February 29.
Julius added days so that it contained 445 days in 46 BCE. The length had been overestimated by 11 minutes and 14 seconds in a year, so throughout centuries, the dates had been shifted by around 10 days from the timeframe Julius has created.
What is Gregorian Calendar?
Gregorian Calendar is the calendar used in the Western world today as a civil as well as a Christian ecclesiastical calendar. It was introduced as a replacement and modification for the Julian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The calendar is known as a new style of calendar used by most of the world. It was made as a replacement as the Old Style calendar did not assume the average solar year correctly and overestimated the timings.
Many countries such as Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, Japan, and other countries opted for the new calendar over the years.
This festival is a bit different than the Christmas celebrated on December 25. It focuses on religious customs and traditions to find peace and unity as well as heal the soul. It is not regarded as a public holiday in countries such as the United States, and Canada. Countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Egypt, Serbia, Ethiopia, and others have a national holiday on the 7th of January to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.
Instead of having a typical Christmas celebrated with bright and colored decorations, Orthodox Christmas decorates the table with a tablecloth that symbolizes the cloth Jesus was wrapped in when he was born. This Christmas is all about having peace and remaining calm. People usually eat traditional foods such as mushroom soup, porridge, Lenten bread, biscuits, and meat is usually avoided.
When Do Russian Orthodox Celebrate Christmas?
Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January based on the old Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar.
The Bolsheviks banned Christmas after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Christmas traditions of decorating trees and giving presents were done during New Years' and became a New Year tradition in Russia. In 1991, the ban on Christmas was revoked and it was registered to be an official holiday and a non-labor day.
In the same year, a public Christmas tree was installed in the Mikhailovsky Artillery School in Petrograd. As the Russian leader at that time, Vladimir Putin attended a Christmas liturgy annually it regain its popularity.
The Russian Orthodox celebrates Christmas based on the Julian calendar and uses the Gregorian calendar for specific purposes only since 1918.
People in Christmas celebrate Christmas with their families having dinner, visiting relatives and friends as well as attending a Christmas liturgy. There is also a 40-day Lent that last from November 28 to January 6, a day before Christmas when people do not eat meat. The Lent period ends with the first star in the sky a day before Orthodox Christmas, on the 6th of January.
The first star also states the star of Christmas dinner with their families. It is regarded as an important holiday in Russia though not as important as New Year's Day, people visit friends and relatives and give as well as receiving presents on January 7.
The Orthodox Christians visit churches to attend a Christmas liturgy that evening. The start of Christmas happens on Christmas Eve which is called Sochyelnik which signifies the end of the Nativity Fast. When the fast is broken after dark, families return home and enjoy a lavish meal with their families.
The Orthodox Christmas is regarded as a public holiday so all the banks and offices are closed on that day in Russia. Christmas and the non-labor day are celebrated on the same day however if it lies on a weekend, the non-labor day is celebrated the following Monday.
Countries That Celebrate Christmas On January 7
The countries that celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January based on the Julian calendar are:
Other Differences In Orthodox and Greek Christmas Celebration
Aside from celebrating Christmas on a different day, there are other differences in the traditions while celebrating Orthodox Christmas and Greek Christmas.
The Greek Christmas has a red-suited Santa Clause that is the iconic symbol of Christmas. However, Orthodox Christmas does not have a merry Santa Claus.
In Greek Christmas, they usually celebrate by having festive foods including pork which is served as the first meat to break the fast.
Some countries that celebrate Orthodox Christmas do not usually indulge in meat on the eve of Christmas. They have a 12-course vegetarian meal which is meant to remember the 12 disciplines.
The supper is set with white linen that represents the cloth that baby Jesus was wrapped in. They usually attend an Orthodox Christmas Service and take part in the spirit of the season
While Western Christmas focuses on Santa Claus and Christmas movies, Orthodox Christmas mostly focuses on the religious aspects of going to church and other traditions such as burning frankincense to celebrate the Wise Men's gift to baby Jesus.