A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Note on the Remaining Christmas(es)

If you're thinking Christmas is over, you're obviously steeped in a Eurocentric perspective. Even in the Western tradition, Christmas isn't over. Remember the "Twelve Days of Christmas"? While you already have several partridges in pear trees and are scrambling to find recipes for roast partridge in pear sauce, the maids-a-milking and my personal favorites, the lords-a-leaping, are still in your future, for even in the Western Christian tradition Christmas lasts until the Feast of the Epiphany (in the Eastern tradition. the Theophany), known in older times as Twelfth Night and marking the visit of the Magi and also, in the East. Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist; our Hispanic neighbors call it Three Kings Day. And the day you get those twelve drummers drumming, so it may be hard to sleep.

But Epiphany, January 6 in the Western (Gregorian) calendar, is not the same as the Eastern Churches' date for Christmas, though several centuries the date coincided and many still confuse them. Eastern Christmas (for the Eastern Orthodox ["Chalcedonian"], Oriental Orthodox or Miaphysite ["Jacobite" or "Monophysite"], Church of the East ["Nestorian"] and some Eastern Catholic churches), is also December 25, actually, but in the Julian Calendar, now falling on January 7 of the Western calendar. Most of the names in quotes and brackets are appellations used by those outside the faiths in question, used here for clarity only.

Thus most Easterners will celebrate Christmas on January 7, and Christmas Eve, when most Eastern traditions hold the primary or only Christmas Liturgy, coincides with the night of the Gregorian Epiphany.

Then there are the Armenians, who traditionally celebrate their primary Christmas celebration on the Epiphany. Most Armenians outside the Holy Land celebrate January 6, but most in the Holy Land region do so 12 days after Julian Christmas on Julian January 6 (Julian Theophany) on Gregorian January 19. So folks in Jerusalem and Bethlehem can, if Ecumenically minded, get three celebrations over more than three weeks.

Few do; turf wars often trump ecumenism, as in this clip of a broom fight between Greek and Armenian clergy in the Church of the Nativity in 2011 over who gets to clean the Church:
Ah, the spirit of Christmas. Since Christmas for so many beleaguered Christians in the Middle East is still coming, I'll be posting Christmas music from most of these traditions, especially those facing major challenges in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, and other reflections on Eastern Christianity from now to January 7.

Those posts will mostly try to stay within the culture and liturgical traditions of those faiths, but the large and increasing diasporas of Middle Eastern Christians mean the ancient Christian East and the modern commercial Christmas West tend to merge in the diasporas. There will be enough bad news ahead, so to start on a lighter note, here's a truly multicultural Armenian Christmas pageant: dancing Santas and female Santas (or elves?), a full nativity scene reenactment, traditional Armenian Christmas music, Western carols in Armenian, Silent Night  in Armenian and English, and a ballet dancer. I didn't spot the dancing mice from Nutcracker, but there's so much going on here I may have missed it. Christmas isn't over in the Middle East!

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks, Mike. Sending this to some Presbyterian friends. Makes sense, since Presbyterians played such an important and positive role in early American contacts with the Middle East.