WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7: Cathedral bells ring in Christmas Day across Russia and in several Orthodox Christian communities worldwide, as those who follow the Julian calendar observe the Nativity of Christ. For the Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar, the calendar created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BCE ushers in Christmas on what most of the world views as January 7. From the Patriarch of Russia (who sent greetings to non-Orthodox churches on December 25) to Orthodox communities in Jerusalem, Serbia and Poland, elaborate services will usher in Christmas Day.
Having fasted in preparation for 40 days, it is with overwhelming joy that these Orthodox Christians approach the Nativity of Christ.
For Orthodox Christians, the feast of Christmas is officially called the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Services begin on the morning of Christmas Eve with readings of prophesies in the Bible; a fast is kept until sunset, and when the first star appears in the evening, a distinctive meal is consumed. The Christmas Eve evening meal, sometimes referred to as the Holy Night Supper, may consist of 12 vegan dishes—one for each Apostle. After the food has been partaken in, carols are sung and blessings are recited. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America.)
Additional services continue on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day. The following day, Dec. 26, is occasion for honoring the Virgin Mary as the mother of God. Church services on this day are devoted to Mary, as part of the Nativity.
Recent studies in Russia have shown that only 6 percent of Russians had planned to celebrate Christmas on December 25, and that approximately 87 percent of Orthodox believers—72 percent of the general population—will mark Christmas on January 7. According to polls, most celebrants will observe Christmas with their families, at home. (Tass Russian News Agency has the story.) This year, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned government officials from taking a lengthy holiday for Christmas, stating that the paid time for employees cannot be afforded. (Read more from Yahoo! Finance.) While Russian companies and government officials are typically permitted time off between January 1 and 12, many will be limited to keeping Christmas celebrations within a couple of days.