Armenians usually celebrate Christmas on January 6. The reason for this unusual date emerges from ancient history. “In the fourth century Roman Catholic Church officials established the date of Christmas as December 25th.” Before that time, Armenians celebrated Christmas (surb tsnunt, Սուրբ Ծնունդ, meaning “Holy Birth”) on January 6 as a public holiday in Armenia. It also coincides with the Epiphany. The Armenians denied the new Roman mandate regarding Christmas, and continued to celebrate both the Nativity and Jesus’ baptism on January 6. When the Gregorian calendar was implemented in 1582, the Armenians rejected the reformed calendar and remained following the Julian calendar. But today, only Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem still uses the Julian calendar. Since the Julian calendar is thirteen days ahead of the Gregorian calendar. The Armenians of Jerusalem celebrate Christmas on January 6 according to the Julian calendar the Gregorian calendar counts the day as January 19.
Traditionally, Armenians fast during the week leading up to Christmas avoiding all meat, eggs, and dairy products. Devout Armenians may even refrain from food for the three days leading up to Christmas Eve, in order to receive the Eucharist on a “pure” stomach. Christmas Eve is particularly rich in traditions. Families gather for the Christmas Eve dinner (khetum, Խթում), which generally consists of: rice, fish, nevik (նուիկ, a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas), and yogurt/wheat soup (tanabur, թանապուր). Dessert includes dried fruits and nuts, including rojik, which consists of whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, bastukh (a paper-like confection of grape jelly, cornstarch, and flour), etc. 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. “On the eve of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of The Lord Jesus Christ, the Jrakalouyts Divine Liturgy (the lighting of the lamps service) is celebrated in honor of the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God (theophany)” In addition to the Christmas tree (tonatsar, Տօնածառ), Armenians (particularly in the Middle East) also erect the Nativity scene. Christmas in the Armenian tradition is purely a religious affair. Santa Claus does not visit the nice Armenian children on Christmas, but rather on New Year’s Eve. The idea of Santa Claus existed before the Soviet Union and he was named kaghand papik (Կաղանդ Պապիկ), but the Soviet Union had a great impact even on Santa Claus. Now he goes by the more secular name of Grandfather Winter (dzmerr papik, Ձմեռ Պապիկ).Return to Warm Wishes From Around the World