Armenian Christmas

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Fresno Beek, CA Co oh may 18 2010

12 Days of Christmas An Armenian tradition that places the holiday on Jan. 6 expands celebrations.

By Diana Marcum / The Fresno Beek

In downtown Fresno on Friday, as office workers hurried by talking on cell phones and noon traffic backed up, parishioners left the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, chatting and calling out "Merry Christmas" to one another.

It was a sign of ancient Christian history and a cultural slice of a city with a large, active Armenian community.

Most American Armenians celebrate both days, with each Christmas taking on its own flavor.

Jim Malkasian, 45, is third-generation Armenian on his father's side and Italian on his mother's side.

"They're both ethnic traditions, so it's about the food," he said.

There's Armenian rolled grape leaves and his mother's Italian chicken soup with pasta. On Dec. 25, he was at a boisterous family get-together with dozens of people at his cousin's home and presents for all the kids.

On Friday, Malkasian, a sub-deacon at Holy Trinity, was taking part in a solemn, once-a-year service where people drank blessed water, and a centuries-old liturgy slowly unfolded.

"They're both Christmas, but today is more subdued, more spiritual. The whole service is meditative. You have to use your mind and your imagination to understand what is happening," he said.

A large red bow adorns a candelabra at Holy Trinity, in honor of the Armenian Christmas. John Walker / The Fresno Beek "The presents and a lot of the extraneous stuff are out of the way, and now we're celebrating God being revealed to us."

To odar - non-Armenians - walking by the downtown church on Friday, the many wishes of "Merry Christmas" may have seemed late.

But Varoujan Der Simonian of Fresno said it was the other way around.

"We're 12 months ahead of everyone else," he said. "This is the first Christmas of the New Year."

may 17, 2010

For most Christians in the Western world, today marks Epiphany, the day the Christ child was visited by three wise men.

But for families from Armenia, a republic in Southwest Asia, today is Christmas Day.

The newly formed Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church of Jacksonville has scheduled its first official Christmas service for tomorrow, featuring a sacred ceremony called the "blessing of the water."

The service would have been today, but the church doesn't have its own building yet and another church wasn't available.

"We are so excited," said Karina Nalbandyan-Pshenichnaya, 45, a member of the church council who lives in Mandarin.

Epiphany represents the feast of the Manifestation of Christ.Its theme is the baptism of Jesus in the Eastern church, but in the West it commemorates the visit of the magi, who tradition says brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The Armenian church, however, believes that Jesus was born and baptized on Jan. 6, said Thomas Talley, a retired professor emeritus of liturgy from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York.

When most Christians began in the fifth century to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, Armenians stayed with Jan. 6.

And for Armenians in Jacksonville, tomorrow's service is of particular significance, said Carl Bazarian, 54, who lives on Amelia Island.

"It's a very, very special Christmas," said Bazarian, an international investment banker. "It will unite the Armenian community."

The new church is led by Father E.Vartanian, who was assigned to Jacksonville by the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church of North America in New York City.

During tomorrow's service, worshipers will each drink holy water, called muron, that is believed to contain some of the same oil used to baptize Jesus.

In ancient times, Vartanian said, it is believed that Armenian partriarchs somehow obtained some of the oil used to baptize Jesus.

Since then, patriarchs in Armenia have continually combined a portion of that oil with oils drawn from more than 40 plants.

The oil is then bottled and distributed from Armenia to Armenian churches around the world.

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