My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD CHRISTMAS IN BULGARIA
In Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas January 7th as most Orthodox Churches use the old Calendar, but the Bulgarian Church uses the Gregorian calendar and Christmas is on the 25th December.
Christmas Eve (called 'Badni Veche') is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening of Christmas Eve.
The meal should traditionally have an odd number of dishes in it (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table (Salt, pepper, and sugar can count as separate dishes!)
Straw is often under the table cloth and you might even bring a wooden plough into the house and put it behind the door! These are meant to help you have good crops during the year.
There's a special round and decorated loaf of bread called 'pita' which has a coin baked in it. If you find the good you're meant to have good year. The bread is normally cut by the oldest person at the meal who then hands it around the table.
On Christmas Day some families will have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, normally some kind of pork.
Following the meal some people will go to a Midnight Liturgy service. You might also hear Koledari (carol singers) which are normally young men who go carol singing dressed in traditional clothing. The singing can only start after midnight.
Christmas Trees now popular in Bulgaria and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some people will still have a traditional Yule Log (usually from an oak, elm or pear tree) known as a 'badnik' or 'budnik' which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve.
In Bulgarian Merry Christmas is 'Vesela Koleda'. Happy/Merry Christmas.
CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA
In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January. This is because the Georgian Orthodox Church uses the old 'Julian' calendar for their festivals.
On Christmas Day, many people will go on a 'Alilo', a parade in the streets. They are dressed in special clothes and costumes to celebrate Christmas. Some people carry Georgian flags and others might be dressed as people from the Christmas story. Children like taking part in the Alilo as they're often given sweets!
The traditional Georgian Christmas Tree is called a 'Chichilaki'. It's made of dried wood, such as hazelnut or walnut branches, which are shaved into long curly strips to form a small tree. Some people say they look like the long white curly beard of Saint Basil the Great! They are decorated with small fruits and sweets. They are traditionally burnt on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany (19th January). This is meant to mark the end of the year's troubles.
People get their presents on New Year's Eve (December 31st).
CHRISTMAS IN GREECE
On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing 'kalanda' (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes they will carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.
If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets, fruit and dried figs.
Attending the Divine Liturgy at Midnight is very important for the Greek Orthodox Christians. After the Divine Liturgy people can go home and end their Nativity Fast.
The Main Christmas meal is often Lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open pit. It's often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables. Some of the Christmas pastries are Baklava, Kataefi, Dyples, Melomakarona, etc. etc.
A traditional table decoration are loaves of 'Christopsoma' (Christ's Bread).
In Greece, presents are often given to the children by Agios Vassilis (St. Basil) on the 1st January.
CHRISTMAS IN ROMANIA
In Romania, Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is when people celebrate St. Ignatius's Day. It is traditional that if the family keeps pigs, one is killed on this day. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals.
Sfantul Nicolae's Day (St. Nicholas) is celebrated on the 6th December. On the evening of the 5th December children clean their shoes or boots and leave them by the door and hope that Sfanntul Nicolae will leave them some small presents!
The Christmas celebrations really begin on Christmas Eve, 24th, when it's time to decorate the Christmas Tree. This is done in the evening of Christmas Eve. In Romania, Christmas Eve is called 'Ajunul Craciunului'.
Carol singing (known as 'Colindatul;) is also a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house performing to the adults in the houses. They normally dance as well.
A traditional Romanian Carol is the 'Star Carol'. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. In the middle of the star is an icon of baby Jesus or a nativity scene. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing.
CHRISTMAS IN RUSSIA
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated. Christmas is celebrated on 7th January (old calendar).
In Russian Happy/Merry Christmas is "s rah-zh-dee-st-OVHM".
Some people fast (don't eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat 'sochivo' or 'kutia' a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!
The Russian word for Christmas Eve 'socheinik', comes from the word 'sochivo'.
Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies, and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.
One of the most famous things about Christmas in Russia, to people in Western Europe and the USA, is the story of Babushka. Babushka means Grand Mother in Russian. It tells the story of an old woman who met the Wise men on their way to see Jesus.
CHRISTMAS IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
In Serbia and Montenegro, the main Church is the Orthodox Church and they still use the old 'Julian' Calendar, which means that Christmas Eve is on 6th January and Christmas Day is on the 7th January.
On Christmas Eve, families gather and many people fast and don't eat food that comes from animals. It is the last day of the Christmas fast. Christmas is a very holy day and Orthodox Christians attend the Christmas Divine Liturgy.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family goes to the forest to cut a young oak called the 'Badnjak' (Christmas Eve tree) but today people just buy one. Under the table there should be also some straw as a symbol of the stable/cave where Jesus was born.
There are sometimes large bonfires outside churches where oak branches are burnt.
At Christmas a special kind of bread is eaten. It's called 'cesnica' and each member of the family gets a piece (and the house does too). There is a coin hidden in it.
CHRISTMAS IN ARMENIA
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. On this day it also celebrates the Epiphany.
Armenian Christians fast in the week before Christmas. The Christmas Eve meal is called khetum. It often includes dishes such as rice, fish, nevik and yogurt/wheat soup called tanabur. Deserts include dried fruits and nuts, including jojik (whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, cornstarch and flour). This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives.
In Armenian Happy/Merry Christmas is Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tzund which means 'Congratulations for the Holy Birth').
CHRISTMAS IN ETHOPIA
Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) still use the old Julian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th. The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna. Most people attend the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day.
Many people fast (don't eat anything) on Christmas Eve (January 6th). At dawn on the morning of Ganna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a shamma. It's a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It's worn like a toga. If you live in a big town or city you might wear 'western' clothes. The early Ganna (Christmas) Liturgy starts at 4:00 a.m.
Traditional Christmas food in Ethiopia include 'wat' which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meats, vegetables and sometimes eggs. Wat is eaten on a 'plate of injera'--a flat bread. Pieces of the injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat.
There are of course many other Orthodox Countries around the world with their own unique and local traditions who celebrate the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ.
We, Orthodox Christians, in America have kept many of the Orthodox Christian traditions that were inherited from the old country. It is important that we teach them to our children and future generations and continue the observance of the Holy Nativity of Christ as authentically and spiritually as possible. Christmas for us is one of holiest Feast Days in our ecclesiastical calendar.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God