Armenian Christmas

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Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 6 by the Armenian Church.


Why do Orthodox Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6?


January 6 is Christmas according to the calendar of Armenian Church. We asked Bishop Sahag Maşalyan, a member of Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, why Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6 instead of December 25.

We asked Bishop Sahag Maşalyan, a member of Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, why Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6. Stating that it is not possible to set a certain date for the birth of Jesus Christ, because the birthday is not specified in the Bible, Maşalyan said: “In the Gospel of Luke, it is written that Jesus Christ was baptized at the age of 30 and this started the Christian tradition of celebrating his birthday and baptism on the same day. This is the oldest tradition and Armenian Orthodox Church retains it. Thus, our church officially names this holiday “Asdvadza-Haydnutyun” (revelation of God, Theophany), because, during the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ, God perfectly manifested oneself to humanity and the divine word, logos humanized through Jesus Christ."

Reminding that the first record about the celebration date of the birth of Jesus Christ was written by Saint Clement of Alexandria, who is a 3th century theologian, Maşalyan said that Christians who was living in Egypt in 2nd century was celebrating the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ between January 6 and 10.

Maşalyan pointed out that travel notes written by Egeria Silvia of Bordeaux in 386 contains accounts on Christian ceremonies that she came across during her pilgrimage to Israel and these notes support this information about Christians in Egypt. Maşalyan said: “Egeria noted that Christians went to Bethlehem before sunrise in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus and rushed to Jordan River in order to celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the evening. Pope Siricius (d. 399) was also saying that January 6 is 'Natalitia Christi', the birthday of Jesus for Rome.”

A new tradition spreading from Rome

Saying that Christianity began to be spread more effectively after it was adopted by Roman Empire in 4th century, Maşalyan explained why most churches celebrate Christmas on December 25: “One of the most important goals of Christian cultural revolution was doing away with the traces of paganism or transforming and Christianizing them. Celebration of the birth of Invincible Sun (natalis solis invicti) started by Emperor Aurelian in 274 was being commonly celebrated in Rome on December 25. Since the festivities appealed Christians, the church divided the Theophany Holiday on January 6 and moved the celebration of the birth of Jesus to December 25. Jesus' baptism and the visit by three astronomers continued to be celebrated on January 6. It was easy to support this with the teachings of Holy Bible, because the Savior Jesus Christ is named the sun of real peace and justice in the Bible. Thus, starting from 336, Christians adopted the new tradition spreading from Rome and began to celebrate Christmas on December 25. However, this transformation didn't took place immediately. Church communities in the regions where Roman Empire was dominant completed this calendar transformation in 6th century. Only Armenian Orthodox Church retained the oldest tradition. The reasons are as the following:

  1. Armenia wasn't located within the borders of Roman Empire.
  2. There was no Sun Holiday tradition that should be transformed in Armenian Church. That pagan holiday hadn't been celebrated in the east.
  3. With the invention of Armenian alphabet in 405, tradition of liturgy, ceremony and church calendar had already been completed and settled in Armenian Church.

However, this is not the only calendar difference among the churches. For instance, there are many churches that celebrate Christmas on January 7, such as Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Macedonian, Karabakh, Serbian, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. In fact, these churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 in accordance with the old Julian calendar. However, there is a 13-day difference between the new Gregorian calendar and the old Julian calendar and because of that, it is thought that they celebrate it on January 7. Similarly, Jerusalem Armenian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar and their celebration on January 6 corresponds to January 19 in our calendar.”

“Christmas celebrations last for 60 days”

Pointing out that all churches agree that the birth of Jesus should be celebrated through a season, Maşalyan said, “So, this season that starts on November 20 ends on January 20. Though it is not easy to realize in a Muslim country, the energy, excitement and glory of this season in Christian countries is like revealing that the person whose birth is celebrated is at the center of the world history. There is no other person on earth whose birthday is celebrated like this.”

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St. Andrew Information Network

Why Do Armenians Celebrate Christmas on January 6th?
by Hratch Tchilingirian

"Armenian Christmas," as it is popularly called, is a culmination of celebrations of events related to Christ's Incarnation. Theophany or Epiphany (or Astvadz-a-haytnootyoon in Armenian) means "revelation of God," which is the central theme of the Christmas Season in the Armenian Church. During the "Armenian Christmas" season, the major events that are celebrated are the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and His Baptism in the River Jordan. The day of this major feast in the Armenian Church is January 6th. A ceremony called "Blessing of Water" is conducted in the Armenian Church to commemorate Christ's Baptism.

It is frequently asked as to why Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the world. Obviously, the exact date of Christ's birth has not been historically established-it is neither recorded in the Gospels. However, historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ's birth on January 6th until the fourth century.

According to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6th to December 25th in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25th. At the time Christians used to continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine and subdue this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany. However, Armenia was not effected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia, on that date, and the fact that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of their forefathers, Armenians have continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th until today. In the Holy Land: January 18th

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 celebrate Christmas on January 18th and the Greek Orthodox celebrate on January 6th. On the day before Armenian Christmas, January 17th, the Armenian Patriarch together with the clergy and the faithful, travels from Jerusalem to the city of Bethlehem, to the Church of Nativity of Christ, where elaborate and colorful ceremonies take place. Outside, in the large square of the Church of Nativity, the Patriarch and his entourage are greeted by the Mayor of Bethlehem and City officials. A procession led by Armenian scouts and their band, advance the Patriarch into the Church of Nativity, while priests, seminarians and the faithful join in the sing of Armenian hymns. Afterwards, church services and ceremonies are conducted in the Cathedral of Nativity all night long and until the next day, January 18th.

Source: St. Andrew Information Network

12 Days of Christmas

Fresno Bee, CA may 18 2010

An Armenian tradition that places the holiday on Jan. 6 expands celebrations.

By Diana Marcum / The Fresno Bee

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.

"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."

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Armenians Celebrate Faith, Recognize Christmas Today

The Florida Times Union
By Maraghy, Mary

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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