Orthodox Christmas

Many Orthodox Christians fast before Christmas Day. Many people identify the Nativity Fast as the period of preparing to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. It is believed that fasting helps people shift their focus from themselves to others, spending less time worrying about food and using more time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. In return, fasting before the Nativity enables one to fully enjoy, appreciate and celebrate the Nativity of Christ.

Many Orthodox Christians attend a special church liturgy on Christmas Day on January 7. Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas Day with various traditions. For example, many churches light a small fire of blessed palms and burn frankincense to commemorate the three wise men’s (also known as Magi) gifts to baby Jesus.  Some parishes have joint celebrations for Christmas Day.

There are Orthodox Churches in the United States that recognize the holiday dates according to the Julian calendar, for example the Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches. Christmas is still on December 25 in the Julian calendar so the January 7 date is only valid between 1901 and 2100. The Gregorian date for Orthodox Christmas will be January 8 in 2101 if the Julian calendar is still used.

The Julian calendar was revised in 1923 and this version is more in line with the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox churches follow the revised Julian calendar but many Orthodox churches still follow the more traditional Julian calendar, which has the original dates for Christian observances prior to the Gregorian calendar’s introduction.

According to the Orthodox Church in America, many Americans of Orthodox Christian faith celebrate Christmas according to the revised Julian calendar.

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