Its Christmas – Yet Again in Holy Land

7/1/15 – Travelujah

With snow predicted to fall in Jerusalem on Wednesday, it may very well be a white Christmas for Orthodox Christians. Much of the world might be enjoying after Christmas sales but in the Holy Land, two more Christmas holidays are yet to come. The Holy Land is surely unique and celebrating Christmas three times Dec. 25 (Catholics and Protestants), Jan. 6 (Orthodox) and Jan. 19 (Armenian Orthodox only in Jerusalem) -more than in any other place in the world.

Two calendars – Three holidays

Due to calendar differences most Orthodox Churches including the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian celebrate nativity on January 6 and 7, which is the date known as Old Christmas Day because this is the date that the first Christian emperor, Constantine, assigned as the date of Christ’s birth in 325. Later in 350 Pope Julius declared that Christmas would be celebrated on January 6. Much later, in 1576, Pope Gregory made the switch to the Gregorian calendar (named in his honor) and 13 days were ‘lost’ in the switch, which is why Christmas was moved to December 25 for Latin Catholics. Christian Orthodoxy did not follow the calendar change for another 200 years yet they still kept the original January 6th date. Meanwhile the Armenian Church in Jerusalem decided to hold onto the original January 6 date and then added the lost days to it which is why their Christmas is on January 18 and 19.

Orthodox Christians follow many unique traditions in their celebration of Christmas. The most significant tradition is the holy fasting that occurs for between 40 and 25 days depending on the country of origin. The fast generally includes obstaining from meat products, and certain foods such as kidney beans, garlic, Lenten bread, nuts and fresh dried fruits. Special foods such as baked cod are also traditionally eaten.

The tradition behind having a Christmas tree originates from a pagan tradition for Latin Catholics. However, for Orthodox Christians, the tree possesses biblical significance as it is a reminder of the paradise tree of fruit found in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Even the tradition of what Latin Catholics refer to as Santa Claus is different for Orthodox Christans who, instead, celebrate St. Nicholas for Orthodox Christians. St. Nicholas was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, also known as ‘Nikolaos of Myra’ (in modern day Turkey).

Moreover, Orthodox Christians place much significance on Christmas songs or canons. These are sung from the Holy Day of “Vavedenje” on the December 4, until the January 13, which is the Day of the New Year and is often called Small Christmas. Just like New Years eve is celebrated on December 31, all Orthodox Christians celebrate New Years eve on January 13.

Orthodox churches situated in Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar. Armenians have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. They were the first community to adopt Christianity in in 301 AD. Today the Armenian population living in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City totals around 2,000 residents.

Upcoming Catholic Epiphany, Orthodox Christmas and Related Celebrations:

Monday, 5th January 2015 (Vigil):

11.30 Solemn Entry of the Custos, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM

13.45 First Vespers

14.45 Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

15.30 Compieta and second procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

Tuesday, 6th January 2015, Feast day:

Nativity Church and St. Catherine’s Church

10.00 Solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land

15.30 Second Vespers and procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

Armenian Celebrations:

January 11th – James the Major and St. John January 19th – Christmas Day


BASILICA OF THE NATIVITY, Manger Square, Tel. 02-2742440, Fax: 02-6282048

January 6th, 2015

4.30 Coptic Mass at the Armenian Altar of the Nativity

8.30 The Syrian Archbishop arrives at Manger Square

10.00 The Coptic Archbishop arrives at Manger Square

12.45 H.B. the Greek Patriarch arrives at Manger Square (Vespers, Liturgy ends at 15.30)

13.00 Syrian first Liturgy and Exaltation of the Holy Cross in The Grotto

14.30 Coptic Vespers

15.00 Syrian Vespers

22.30 Greek Matins

22.40 Syrian Mid-Night and morning official Order Prayers

23.00 Coptic Mid-Night and morning official Order Prayers

00.00 Greek Service, ends at 3.30 am

Note: The ROMANIAN CHURCH (Tel. 02-6263034, Fax: 02-6264628) participates in all liturgies and prayers of the Greek Orthodox Church.

ETHIOPIAN CHURCH – ETHIOPIAN MONASTERY OF PEACE-CHURCH OF EYESUS, Milk Grotto Street, Tel. 02-6282848, Fax: 02-6264189

January 6th, 2015

15.00 Arrival at the Manger Square and procession to the Church of Eyesus

16.00 Vespers till 5.00 pm

20.45 Bells, prayers

21.50 Laudes (Mahlet)

00.00 Midnight Liturgy (Kidassie)

January 7th, 2015

6.00 Dispersal or completion of the Festivity


January 18th, 2015

11.00 Arrival of H.B. the Armenian Patriarch on Manger Square

14.00 Entry in the Basilica of Nativity – Vespers and Christmas Eve Liturgy

22.00 Armenian Midnight Service, ends at 1.00 am

January 19th, 2015 (Feast of Epiphany starts)

1.00 Blessing of the Holy Water & Episcopal Liturgy in the Grotto

6.00 End

GREEK CHURCH – CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, Old City, Tel. 02-6284202, Fax: 02-6282048

January 6th, 2015:

23.00 Midnight Service

ROMANIAN CHURCH, Shivtei Israel Street 46, Jerusalem, Tel. 02-6263034, Fax: 02-6264628

January 6th, 2015:

19.00 Vespers

Jan. 7th – 9th, 2015:

9.00 Holy Liturgy

RUSSIAN CHURCH (MOSCOW MISSION), Russian Compound, Tel. 02-6252565, Fax: 02-6256325

January 6th, 2015:

17.00 Vespers at Holy Trinity Cathedral

January 7th, 2015:

00.00 Divine Liturgy – Holy Trinity Cathedral

ARMENIAN CHURCH -ST. JAMES CATHEDRAL, Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road, Tel. 02-6282331

January 25th, 2015:

17.00 Vespers in St. James Cathedral


January 18th, 2015:

13.00 Eve of the Nativity

January 26th, 2015:

8.30 Liturgy

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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on Christian tourism. People can learn, share and plan their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.