Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day usually on or about January 7 each year. This is due to the fact that Eastern Orthodox follows the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian for liturgical feasts and occasions such as Christmas. So the date on the Julian calendar is December 25 but there is a 13 day difference so on the Gregorian or Western calendar it is January 7.
It is called the Gregorian calendar as Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed it in a Papal Bull in 1582. It was adopted by most Catholic countries but others did not use it right away (some for religious reasons since they were Protestant) and took over 300 years to be fully implemented. Great Britain did not formally adopt it till 1752. Russia adopted it in 1918, Greece in 1923 and Turkey in 1926. The reason for the change was the Julian calendar was not very accurate and had to many leap years. Because of this it would fall out of sync with fixed dates for astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices.
Eastern Orthodox Christians has over 250 million believers in Eastern Europe, Greece, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and United States. Except in countries that are predominately Eastern Orthodox, it is not celebrated as a public holiday.
Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.
In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.
Though Christmas Day has come and gone, we are still in the Christmas season till Epiphany Day (usually January 6). Here is a classic from Handel’s Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus. A masterpiece that is timeless. Enjoy.
If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe)it is a public holiday.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.
“….And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
Halloween has come and gone, Linus once again mourns the Great Pumpkin did not show up, and Christmas decorations are starting to appear. Fall is now apparent with its cool nights and moderate warm days punctuated by rain here and there. Although it is still very early, Christmas jingles are starting to be heard in commercials.
In San Francisco, city workers are hard at work putting up Christmas lights and decorations on Market Street. With standard time, they will be seen by commuters early in the morning and as they leave at night. Thanksgiving is not far off so many are already making plans for the Great Feast. Thanksgiving is normally a day to relax but alas some retail stores do open on that day in the hopes of luring shoppers with great deals.
Coats that have been little used are being fetched out, cleaned, and worn again as the days get a bit cooler. Sometimes very cool depending on how far north you live. But for my friends down in Australia, spring is coming to an end and summer will begin with the solstice in December. Their December is mostly pleasant and warm. It is sort of odd to hear that tune with the lyric “…. Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” as you grill food and sit back in shorts to enjoy a fine meal.
I guess it is all a matter of perspective since I know a guy who fires up his grill in the dead of winter to cook pork chops. But winter is still a ways off and we are in early November. So we say welcome to November and begin our trek into the Christmas season and to the New Year.