December 25, 2004

Christmas where it happened

The Jerusalem Post has a nice feature which describes Christmas in Israel:

This is also the only country in the western world that is absolutely devoid of crass Christmas commercialism, notes Rev. Heldt, and as a result "you are brought back to the reality of what Christmas is all about. That's why I love being here for Christmas. It is so simple, and so beautiful."

It's a little bit odd to hear Israel being described as being "in the western world". After all, we are in the Middle East...

How many of you knew that there are four Christmases in Israel? From the International Christian Embassy (dated last January):

Israel's Christian community, albeit a diminutive 3 percent of the population, is a microcosm of the world's gentile religions, displaying an array of festivals and holidays celebrated in a compact country. Christmas is one major – and slightly confusing – example.

While the majority of the western world celebrated Christmas on December 25, and then Orthodox religions celebrated on January 7, one Christmas has yet to be observed: the Armenian Christmas.

Now, lest we think we have a handle on the situation, let's add some confusion to the mix: It is only the 2,500 Armenians in Israel who use an old calendar and celebrate Christmas almost a month later than the majority of the world - on January 19. Armenians in Armenia use the new calendar and celebrate on January 7.

But even within Israel's Armenian community, not all consider the same day the main celebration. Armenian Catholics observe December 25; others, who hail from an Orthodox background or are not 100 percent Armenian observe January 7; and traditionalists observe January 19, perhaps the most popular day for the majority of Armenians.

This page explains:

There are actually only 2 dates for the observance of Jesus' birth and not 4. They are December 25th and January 6th. The confusion of the other 2 dates, January 7th and 18th are due to the use of 2 calendars, the Gregorian and the Julian. While most of the known world, such as Canada, is on the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory of Rome), some Orthodox Christians maintain their liturgical calendars according to the ancient Julian calendar. Thus, the January 7th date actually corresponds with December 25th on the "old" Julian Calendar while January 19th corresponds to January 6th on the Gregorian calendar. Those who observe January 7th which is actually December 25th on the Julian calendar are referred to as "old calendarists." Despite the calendar usage, all these churches observe the Epiphany or the Baptism of Jesus 12 days following the Nativity.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at December 25, 2004 09:36 PM
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A long time ago (in a different lifetime, it sometimes seems to me), I was a military policeman in the IDF. (I doubt any readers here would remember me, but I was called Shechori then.) As an MP -- or mem-tzadi as we were called -- I found myself on duty in Bethlehem on Christmas eve, as part of a peace-keeping force, to ensure that Christmas mass (and other celebrations) went smoothly.

Every year, we heard lectures on the three Christmases -- the December 25th one (which we called "the Catholic Christmas"), the January 7th (which we called "the Orthodox Christmas"), and the January 19th (which we called "the Armenian Christmas").

As a result, I can truthfully say that I spent Christmas eve in Bethlehem... nine times in three years. I'm also in a position to know about the weather in Bethlehem on Christmas eve, because it rained, continuously, all nine times.

Thanks for bringing back some memories, David!

kol tuv,
Daniel in Brookline

Posted by: Daniel in Brookline at January 3, 2005 04:12 PM Permalink

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