Christmas’s Last Hurrah: From the Orthodox East

A Christmas tree in Russia. Photo courtesy of WikimediaMONDAY, JANUARY 7: As the final Christmas clearance sales signal the end of the Christmas season in America, some countries are just celebrating the big day: In accordance with the Julian calendar, the Feast of the Nativity draws huge crowds to Orthodox Christian churches in many nations today. (Check out photos from NBC News. Or, from the BBC. Or, the Washington Post.)

From Russia to the Rastas in Ethiopia, today means feasting with family, adoring the baby Jesus and exchanging gifts. Christian countries following the Gregorian calendar marked Epiphany and Three Kings Day on January 6—by tradition, when the three kings presented the Christ baby with gold, frankincense and myrrh. But that celebration won’t come for another 13 days for Orthodox Christians.

The Moscow Patriarchate will celebrate Christmas on November 7, which means that the most widely attended Nativity liturgies are held late at night on November 6 into the very first hours of November 7. Russian Christmas begins with traditional Orthodox fasting in anticipation. Russians look for the appearance of a first star. Customs and schedules vary across the Orthodox world, but the Nativity typically is greeted in Russia with the Lord’s Prayer, words of thanksgiving and Kutya or Sochivo—wheat-based porridges. (Food traditions are examined by USA Today.) “The Holy Supper” culminates in a formal Christmas dinner, when the table is covered with scrumptious dishes. On the day of Nativity, neighbors and family visit one another and spend the day eating, drinking and singing carols. (Get details from

In Jamaica and in Rasta communities worldwide, Christmas falls on this Orthodox schedule following the custom of the Rasta homeland: Ethiopia. Unlike most Christmas feasts, the Rastafari dinner consists of vegetarian dishes and maintains strict food laws. (Hungry for a vegetarian dish? Try out a recipe from Vegetarian Times.) Following the feast, prophesies and readings prepare the way for a Nyabinghi meeting. The Rasta messianic figure Haile Selassie cemented the importance of Christmas for future devotees by announcing, on Christmas Day in 1937, “There is no greater day of gratitude and joy for Christians than celebrating the birthday of Our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Grandfather Frost of Belarus. Head officials of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church say the Soviet replacement of Christ with a secular Grandfather Frost is the reason why New Year outshines Christmas in Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsFROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE:

Recently released studies of world religion show a startling rift among Russia’s Orthodox Christians: Despite some 80 percent of Russians identifying as Orthodox, only 8 percent attend religious services on a regular basis. In light of this, a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy (and high-ranking official of the Russian Orthodox Church) proposed something bold: moving Christmas Day to January 1. (Read more in Asia News.) He argues that during the Soviet-era’s 70 years of official atheism, the secular New Year exploded in popularity. New Year events continue to be the most elaborate events of the year, and by closing the religious/secular gap, the professor argues that Russians will have more energy for Christmas festivities.


While Rastas and followers of the Julian calendar mark Christmas today, other Julian followers—of Julian Marley, that is—have been talking about the reggae composer’s recent gig in India. Julian reports that his tunes, much like those of his father, are inspired by God and spirituality. (Read more in the Times of India.) Meanwhile, Bob Marley’s granddaughter, Donisha Prenderghast, has been making headlines with first screenings of a documentary about her own Rasta journey. Donisha began exploring her Rasta roots in 2003 and produced RasTa: A Soul’s Journey, which explores the changes in Rastafari image through the past few decades. (Read details in the UK’s Harrow Observer.)


As the Orthodox world ramped up for Christmas, Christians following the more widely used Gregorian calendar marked January 6 as Epiphany and, in Hispanic countries, Three Kings Day. Disneyland marked an especially large-scale Three Kings Day event this year, after an extremely successful launch year in 2012; the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree in Frontierland hosted Mexican folklorico dancing, mariachi musicians, sweet tamales and Mexican hot chocolate and, of course, king cake. (USA Today reported.) Even Nickelodeon star Dora the Explorer hosted an inside look at Three Kings Day. (Watch the episode at Nick

Hispanic traditions may be picking up momentum worldwide—Mexico was just named a “Top Christmas Destination” by CNN, largely for its religious ritual Las Posadas. In Puerto Rico, children follow up Thanksgiving with a list to their favorite king, asking for gifts that they hope to receive on Three Kings Day. (No Santa Claus here!) In return for boxes of grass or hay placed beneath their beds for the kings’ horses, children receive gifts on the morning of Three Kings Day. During the week of Three Kings Day, the Three Kings travel around the island, visiting towns and children’s hospitals; the Three Kings Museum, the first of its kind, was inaugurated in 2004 in Puerto Rico and contains costumes that were blessed by Pope John Paul II.

Miami greeted Three Kings yesterday with a parade and grand marshals LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; a bilingual performance of the biblical story took place at the GALA Theatre in Washington, D.C. Mexico marked the day with fervor, too, while New Orleans used the day to kick off Carnivale season.

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