WHY IS ARMENIAN CHRISTMAS ON JANUARY 6?

By Vic Gerami 

Christmas in Yerevan, capital of Armenia

 

Most people are surprised when their Armenian friend or co-worker mentions Christmas Day in January. This is also true for people from over a dozen Orthodox Christian counties, like Russia, Greece, and Ukraine. This revelation is followed by several questions, some of which even some Armenians cannot answer completely. Here is a quick FQA about Armenian (Orthodox) Christmas.

 

When is Armenian Christmas?

Armenians celebrate the original Christmas, on January 6.

Why?

As Christianity expanded into Western Europe, the people there had been celebrating a Roman holiday, ‘Solis Invicti‘ on December 25th. Rather than compete with an already popular holiday, the church simply decided to move Christmas Day to December 25th and celebrate January 6th as the Feast of the Epiphany. Undoubtedly, Solis Invicti itself was a holiday created to overwrite previous Pagan winter solstice celebrations.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia

In Armenia however, there was no such solstice tradition and Armenian Christians didn’t feel bound to move their Christmas from January 6th.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). But it was not an official Roman state festival at this time.

Why is the Armenian Church called the Armenian Apostolic Church?

The two Apostles of Jesus, Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus brought Christianity to Armenia in the first century. Because of these two founding apostles, the official name of the Armenian Church is Armenian Apostolic Church. Christianity has been declared as state religion in 301, when Armenia became the first to adopt Christianity as its official state religion.

The Holy Lance

Orthodox Christians didn’t split from the Roman Catholic church until 1054, by which time Christmas had moved to January, so again some Eastern Orthodox churches stuck with the Julian calendar which is why Christmas Day is in January.

What countries celebrate Christmas in January?

Armenia, Russia, Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine.

What is the 12 days of Christmas?

The 12 days of Christmas is the period that in Christian theology marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (the Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings’ Day).

What is the oldest cathedral in the world?

Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the city of Etchmiadzin, Armenia. According to most scholars it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.

Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, depicted on a Christmas ornament

The original church was built in the early fourth century, between 301 and 303 according to tradition—by Armenia’s patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. The cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 and is one of the most visited churches in the world.

On display at the cathedral is The Holy Lance, also known as the Lance of Longinus (named after Saint Longinus), the Spear of Destiny, or the Holy Spear is legendarily known as the lance that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross.