Orthodox Christmas Day

Although most people recognize Christmas as a day that occurs on December 25th, what some people don’t realize is that it’s also celebrated in January. Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, and it’s celebrated on this date because many Orthodox churches adhere to a 2,000-year-old calendar known as the Julian Calendar.

It’s a day on which people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s also a day for spending time with family, praying, and caring for the poor.

The History of Orthodox Christmas

To fully understand the history of this holiday, we first have to travel back to the 4th century. This is when a group of Christian bishops convened the First Council of Nicaea. The most important item on this ecumenical conference’s agenda was to standardize the date of Easter—one of the most important holidays for the Christian faith.

To standardize the date, they decided to adopt the Julian calendar—a calendar that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar had adopted in 46 B.C. on the advice of the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes. Caesar had adopted this calendar to clean up Rome’s messy lunar calendar, and the First Council of Nicaea thought it was a good solution to clean up their calendar.

Unfortunately, the Julian calendar has a miscalculation baked into it. Sosigenes had overestimated the solar year by approximately 11 minutes. That meant that as time went by, the solar year began to become out of sync. This resulted in a drift of the important Christian holiday.

The problem was so bad by the 16th century that Pope Gregory XIII convened a group of astronomers to address the problem. What these astronomers proposed to solve the problem was a new calendar known as the Gregorian calendar.

During the 16th century, the Gregorian calendar was adopted by much of Catholic Europe, but the Orthodox Church resisted the change. If the Orthodox Church accepted the calendar change, then there would occasionally be an overlap between Passover and Easter.

This was unacceptable according to Orthodox Christianity’s holy texts. So instead of accepting the Gregorian calendar, they decided to stick with the Julian calendar.

Observing Orthodox Christmas

Orthodox Christmas is celebrated with many of the same symbols that are used for celebrating Christmas on December 25th. This includes setting up Christmas trees and wreaths and giving friends and family members gifts. However, there’s a lot more to this holiday than celebration.

This is also a time for prayer and reflection. Many people will also celebrate this holiday over a three-day period. On the Eve of Orthodox Christmas, a church service is held, and many Orthodox Christians fast for the day.

In some countries, a special 12-course meal is served called Holy Night Supper. These are meat-free dishes and represent each of the 12 apostles. Although the dishes for Holy Night Supper vary from country to country, some of the traditional dishes served include pierogies, borscht, and sauerkraut.

After dinner, some families give out treats such as cookies or candies to their neighbors. And in some Orthodox countries, it’s a tradition to go from house to house singing carols known as koliadky.

Where is it celebrated?
Russia (National holiday, orthodox)Georgia (Public holiday)Canada (Orthodox) Show all
When is it?
This year (2024)
Next year (2025)
Last year (2023)