Armenian Christmas parade to the Church of Nativity in Bethl.
(photo credit: Photo courtesy Travelujah )
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said that Christmas only comes once a year obviously doesn’t live in
Jerusalem. Thanks to a glut of Christian denominations confined in one
small geographical space, Christmas comes three times in the Holy Land -
more here than anywhere else in the world.
In every other part
of the world, Christmas can be penciled in on two dates: Dec. 25,
celebrated by Catholics and Pentecostals; and Jan. 7 as celebrated by
the Eastern Orthodox Church.
But due to a calendar glitch, the
Armenian Orthodox Church in Israel celebrates the Nativity of Jesus on
January 18 and January 19. This also coincides with Russian and Greek
Orthodox faithful who will make their annual pilgrimage to Qasr El Yahud
for the Feast of Theophany, which they celebrate on January 18. The
Ethiopian Orthodox church will celebrate the Baptism of Jesus on the
afternoon of January 18, while on the 19th, the Coptic Orthodox and the
Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Epiphany at Qasr El Yahud.
Gregorian calendar, which has a difference of 12 days, was introduced
in 1752. At that time, all Christian churches, with the exception of the
Armenian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, switched to the Gregorian
calendar to determine the date of religious feasts. In Jerusalem, the
Armenian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar. With the 12-day
difference, the Armenians in Jerusalem, and only in Jerusalem, observe
Christmas later while even Armenians living in Armenia and anywhere else
in the world celebrate the holiday with the other Orthodox religions.
The community here celebrates the day with solemnity.
"Outside of Jerusalem, January 18 is just another day," Katia Toumayan told Travelujah-Holy Land tours
. "But it is significant since they hold midnight mass in Bethlehem
. I suppose [January] 18 is the spiritual day versus the materialistic celebration of the 25th or 6th."
Christian churches originally celebrated Christmas Eve on Jan. 6. In
the 4th century, the Roman Catholic Church designated Dec. 25 as the
holiday in order to replace the pagan celebration of the Winter
Solstice, while Orthodox churches stuck with Jan. 6.
the Armenian Christmas in the Holy Land, the Patriarch in Jerusalem,
priests and a marching band will make a procession from the Old City of
Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The processional continues to Bethlehem's Manger
Square where there is an official reception at the Church of the
Nativity. Services take place throughout the night including a midnight
service at the Grotto of the Nativity.
will have a holiday meal of pilaf and fish and will attend a Christmas
mass at Saint James, a church rebuilt in the 1200s in Saint James
Convent in Jerusalem. The Christmas service takes place at midnight and
is a unique event as the only light is provided by the colorful oil
lamps hanging in the square stone basilica.
The calendar for the
Armenians in Jerusalem affects their New Year celebrations as well. On
Jan. 13, Armenians will ring in the New Year with celebrations and a
mass in Jerusalem's Old City. Christians celebrate with a feast on New
Year's Eve and mass on New Year's morning.
The orthodox churches
of Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and
Ukraine still use the Julian calendar.
Armenia was the first
nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD. And even before that, Armenians
have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a
community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. To this day, there is
an Armenian Quarter in the Old City with fewer than 2,000 residents.
Armenians endured persecution and massacres in Turkey in the late 1800s
culminating in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and now have a far-flung
diaspora, more widespread than that of the Jews. Armenia itself was
under Soviet rule until 1991. While Christmas may be the most drawn out
of the Armenian feasts in Jerusalem, more Armenians make a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem for Easter each year than for Christmas.
Where to attend Armenian Christmas services and Orthodox Epiphany
Orthodox Epiphany -Annual Pilgrimage to Jesus' Baptismal Site
January 18 (Eastern Orthodox) and January 19 (Syrian and Coptic)
11a.m. Qasr El Yahud
Basilica of the Nativity
Tel. (02) 274-2410
- January 18
11 a.m. Arrival of the Armenian Patriarch at Manger Square
2 p.m. Entry in the Basilica of Nativity - Vespers and Christmas Eve Mass
10 p.m. Armenian Midnight Service, ends at 1 a.m.
- January 19 (Feast of Epiphany starts)
1 to 6 a.m. Blessing of the Holy Water & Episcopal High Mass in the Grotto
St. James Cathedral
St. James, Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem
Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road
Tel. (02) 628-2331
- January 18
1 p.m. Eve of the Nativity at Holy Sepulchre
- January 25
3 p.m. Vespers at St. James Cathedral
- January 26
8:30 a.m. High Mass at Holy Sepulchre
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours,
the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians
to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour
and travel experiences on Travelujah.