SATURDAY, JANUARY 7: The Christmas rush may be over, but for Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar, the religious festivities are just beginning! Millions of devotees in countries like Ethiopia, Ukraine, Serbia and parts of Russia will be attending Mass today, setting an elaborate Christmas table and enjoying the Orthodox Julian Christmas Day. Although many Christians today follow the Gregorian calendar—created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582—several sects of Orthodox Christians still use the older Julian calendar.
The celebration of Christ’s birth in Orthodox countries varies from Western events in both tradition and date, since many Eastern Orthodox Christmas customs were created in small villages hundreds of years ago. In Ethiopia, Christmas is known as Ledet and begins with a long procession, followed by a mass and a feast to break the fast of Gahad (Advent. Learn more at TLC). Most Ethiopian Christians wear a traditional white shamma, or cotton wrap, to Christmas Day services; since Rastafarians (mostly in Jamaica) consider Ethiopia their spiritual homeland, they, too, mark Christmas today. In Serbia, a Christmas Eve meal retains the fast from meat, dairy and eggs but fills a table with several other foods, often including garlic and honey to symbolize the bitterness and sweetness of life. Ukrainian Christmas festivities largely parallel those in Serbia.