Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Merry Christmas … (again) and a Happy New Year

For most people, at least those who celebrate Christmas here, the holiday is over, but it is not over for a large number of people – the Eastern Orthodox Christians. They celebrate Christmas on the 6th and 7th of January.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click again on each picture

When one lives in a large city, where diversity is the rule, most holidays are known. In my county, Cobb County in Georgia USA, it is easy to forget that not all people are alike, that there are people who follow different faiths – or have no faith. It is taken for granted that everyone worship more or less in the same manner. Where are those Eastern Orthodox Christians? Here in the US and also in Russia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Ukraine, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Albania, Belarus, Macedonia, the Czech Republic, Armenia and Armenians in the Diaspora and a large percentage of people in other countries like Poland, Kazakhstan and many others – between 225 to 300 million people. For them Christmas is not over yet, so let’s wish them a Merry Christmas.

My father was an Armenian Eastern Orthodox. He was born and raised in Istanbul Turkey in this faith. When he immigrated to France and married my mother he kept his faith and went to the Armenian Church in Paris, the Cathedral Saint Jean Baptiste, rue Jean Goujon. But he did not force his views on my mother who was brought up in a secular home. My father would bring us Armenian delicacies bought in an Armenia gourmet specialty shop in Paris, like “sujukh” and “basturma.” If you would like to look at some more delectable Armenian cuisine please take a look at my Armenian friend’s blog “Notes from Hairenik” and his post “A Moveable Feast” here.
My post, here, is to the memory of my father (Je n’ai pas oubliéI have not forgotten.)

Don't forget to click to enlarge

So why do they celebrate this holiday in January? It is a long story but in short they follow the Julian calendar which is days behind our modern Gregorian calendar. Christmas was actually celebrated by all Christians on the 6th of January from the 1st till the 4th century. However Pope Julius I, a Roman Catholic, deliberately chose December 25th to absorb and Christianize the Yule celebration and override Saturnalia, a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun - both of these were celebrated on December 25. Emperor Constantine agreed and decreed that the 25th of December was now the official Christmas date so as to bring religious unity to the Holy Roman Empire. The Eastern Orthodox Christians elected not to follow the Roman Catholic Church decision and kept the traditional date till now.

While I was reading up on all this I found out that Ireland also celebrates what they call “Little Christmas” (called Nollaig Bheag in Irish) on January 6th. They celebrate it as the historical date for Christmas. Another area still holding on to their Old Christmas traditions, are the people of the Outer Banks region of North Carolina in the US. When the Catholic European countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, Protestant Europe took 200 years to agree. In 1752 the people in the colony of North Carolina did not hear about this for quite a while, then resisted the new date, but now still celebrate both dates. They call the 6th of January “Old Christmas.” Some people, who are aware of all this history and respectful of other Christian beliefs, keep their decorations up until the 7th of January in tribute to the original date and to the Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Vintage Russian Christmas postcard

In France on the 6th of January they eat a cake called “Galette des Rois” (it is called “King’s cake” in New Orleans.) The tradition is that inside each galette is a fève (literally means “bean”) which nowadays is a tiny trinket. Whoever gets the fève is the King (if a man) then he places the fève in the glass of his chosen Queen (or vice versa.)

French Galette des Rois

Actually this is also an ancient Roman custom. Saturnalia was ruled by a mock king, chosen by a bean ballot. This mock king called “The Bean King,” usually a servant or slave, became the master and social rank was turned upside down. Eventually this celebration was linked to the Twelfth Night and Epiphany by the Church. So many other traditions come from these Romans times. I Googled “pagans origins of Christmas” and received 187,000 answers, with the query “origin of Christmas” I received 11 million answers and with “history of Christmas” 367 million answers!

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens, Belgian, 1593-1678
I also found out that some conservative Christians groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, don’t celebrate Christmas. They feel that Christmas is a pagan practice-cross over. Then others feel that religion is not evident enough in Christmas. It is a fascinating subject with different viewpoints. I am not sure how it will progress in the future but I saw a very thought provoking lecture by Eric Kaufmann, a writer and teacher of sociology. His forthcoming book is called “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” His answer is “yes” because of changing demography, here and in other countries, religious fundamentalism is on the increase. A 2 minutes video of Eric Kaufmann from his talk in Australia can be seen here.

But this is not a religious post, this is to wish a Merry Christmas to people who celebrate it on the 6th or 7th of January. I'll continue reading on the subject and by next Christmas I’ll have a more historical post on it. So I’m starting to read …

Poet’s Window by Piotr Konchalovsky, Russian, 1876-1956

I’ll end by also wishing everyone much happiness for the New Year (une Bonne et Heureuse Année.)

I join Mr. Nô and the Enfantastiques to wish y’all a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2011 full of hope, enthusiasm, solidarity and joy.

French children choir directed by Jean Nô

Here are some of the verses they sing in French that I translated

Bonne et Heureuse Année (Good and Happy New Year)

Quatre saisons pour aimer la vie (four seasons to love life….) …

l’heure de résolution vient de sonner (the hour for resolution has come..)

et sourtout n’oublions pas de donner… (and above all let’s not forget to give)

et le meilleur qu’on puisse imaginer …(and the best one can imagine)

pour que se réalisent en triomphant tout simplement nos rêves d’enfants (that all our children's dreams come true.)


""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde ! Quand je passerai la prochaine fois devant la cathédrale Saint Jean Baptiste, rue Jean Goujon je penserai à toi et à ton papa.

La galette des rois... en ce moment on en voit partout ici en France dans les pâtisseries, les boulangeries et les grandes surfaces ! :o)

M. No... je suis allée à un de ces concerts à Paris quand mes enfants étaient plus jeunes ! :o) bon souvenir ! :o)


Pondside said...

When I was a child, Old Christmas was always celebrated - but then it was still a Holy Day in the Catholic Church. These days I leave the tree and all the decorations up until after the 6th - keeping the 12 Days of Christmas, which I much prefer to the hype and hysteria leading up to the 25th, after which most people put everything away and call it quits for another year.

Kenza said...

Très belle et heureuse année 2011à toi chère Vagabonde! (again)
Bisous et très belle semaine

Diane said...

Bonjour et Bonne année.

What an interesting post. I did not know much of what you have posted here so it was very educational as well. Merci. Diane

Jojo said...

Very interesting post! We have a very good friend who's a member of the Orthodox church so we're in the habit of wishing him Merry Christmas and Easter when he is observing. I'm a Catholic married to a Moslem and I have to say I LOVE my husband's family. It's very much like a United Nations. Religiously we represent the Moslems, Eastern Orthodox, Catholicism, the Anglican Church and the Jewish faith - all in one small family! I decided a long time ago that we are all part of the same church - we just sit on different pews.

Our priest reminds us to continue the Christmas celebration until January 6th so our decorations are still up.

Ruth said...

So it wasn't out of laziness that I left Christmas decorations up until the coming weekend, it was for the Greek Orthodox!

What wonderful information you have gathered, once again. I love it. I also admire how you honor your father here, and don't forget him.

The French New Year song is very sweet.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Kay Dennison said...

Thank you!!!!! What a lovely tribite to your father. I am very familiar with Orthodox traditions.

In my small to medium-sized city we have eight Orthodox churches and I think I've been in most-- if not all -- of them for various occasions/celebrations and have enjoyed it immensely. It is a beautiful faith rich in tradition.

Friko said...

Here in the UK the Christmas Festival lasts until Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas, on the 6th Jan.

The Western and the Eastern Roman Church (both are Roman by origin - what is called 'orthodox' split from the Roman Church) celebrate other festivals on different days too, like Easter. I know because I lived in a mixed Cypriot/Greek household.

The 'Holy' Roman empire started with the restoration of the empire of the West, after the barbarian invasions, with the rise of the Frankish, (Merovingian not French) and Germanic tribes.

My specialist subject is European Medieaval History, Vagabonde, hence this rather boring lecture.

As always, your post is wholly interesting and wonderfully researched.
I do wish we could actually meet some time.

DJan said...

As usual, I learned a great deal from your post. I knew that Christmas is celebrated in Greek Orthodox churches at a different time but I didn't know why. It's always a pleasure to read your informative posts and consider how much I don't know! Thank goodness for your interest in furthering my education. :-)

Shammickite said...

What an interesting post! When I was a child in England, we always left our Christmas Decorations up until Twelfth Night, the 6 January. This was the official end to the Christmas celebrations. Unfortunately, I don't follow that tradition any more, I like to get everything back in the box the day after New Year, but perhaps I should start observing "Old Christmas" again.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

My maternal grandmother immigrated to the US from the Ukraine and she celebrated the Eastern Orthodox date. My Italian husband's family also celebrated "La Befana" -- she was a witch who delivered gifts to the children today, on Epiphany Eve.

Rosaria Williams said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for the rich details and lovely memories you shared with us.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

So much interestimg information--practically none of which I was familiar....You are such an Amazing Researchere, plus, you have terrific motivation because of your father!
I wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS, coming along here tomorrow!

Olga said...

What a lovely, lovely post. As far as I know everything is accurate.
Dear Vagabonde, may I feature your post on my blog?
С Рождеством Христовым!

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful and informative post -- beautifully illustrated -- as always. And a Happy Old Christmas to you!

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

♥ღ♥ ♥ღ♥ Nous sommes le 6 janvier alors je te souhaite une ღ BONNE ÉPIPHANIE ღ ! GROS BISOUS à toi VAGABONDE :o) !!! ♥ღ♥ ♥ღ♥

Margaret said...

December 25 - January 6 are the 12 Days of Christmas in our household. (Catholic, btw) and sometimes due to what day Sunday falls on and the Baptism of Christ, it can be longer. With that said, we get a little "lazy" ... it's just ALOT to carry out everything... some people celebrate by giving gifts each of the 12 days. I know that Saint Nicholas's day is December 6th and we used to celebrate that day years ago. Advent is all about preparing for Christmas and lasts 22-28 days. And that does not mean shopping! LOL

As you know, Christmas is only secularized if we allow it to be. This is the first year, I think, that we did not get out the Advent wreath, and I regret it. I let "busy" get in the way.

My way is not the only way and I applaud tolerance and respect for all beliefs. I look forward to you Christmas post next year ... happy reading! And Happy New Year.

Reader Wil said...

Hi Vagabonde! Merci de votre visite! Merci de cette histoire de Noël en autres pays.C'est très intéressante. Je crois que le plus important est célébrer le retour de la lumière. Pour tous les crétiens la lumière est Jésus, et pour autres gens c'est le soleil qui vient maintenant.
J'aime le chanson des enfants et aussi les belles photos.

Miss_Yves said...

Bonjour, Vagabonde,
et merci
pour votre visite et vos commentaires
ainsi que pour ces intéressants rappels historiques (traduits !)
Bonne et heureuse année 2011!

Vos deux photos personnelles traduisent fort bien la "magie de Noël", par leurs couleurs et leurs lumières

Angela said...

Today it`s the sixth, so Happy Christmas! In German Catholic areas (North Germany is Protestant) this is celebrated as the Day of the 3 Holy Kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who reached the Baby Jesus on this day, to worship and bring gifts.
You are like a treasure box, Vagabonde!

Jeruen said...

Hmmm, you're one of the few people I know who knows the real way to count Christmas. I have a few friends who insist on keeping the tree up until January 6, but other people take it down the moment it hits the day after Christmas. And when you go to the stores, the ones on display are already for Valentines!

Dutchbaby said...

I just returned from New Orleans where they consider today the beginning of Mardi Gras season. Their King Cakes always have a plastic baby inside - signifying Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby must buy the next King Cake.

In The Netherlands I seem to remember learning that January 6th was Three Kings Day. They said that this is the day that the three magi visited Baby Jesus.

I wish you a happy day, Vagabonde. I thank you for yet another informative and very interesting post.

claude said...

Quel beau et intéressant post, Vagabonde ! Joyeux Noël Arménien et Bonne Année 2011 !
J'avais déjà vu l'Eglise orthodoxe
de Nice sur le blog de Merula et je l'ai trouvée très belle.
J'adore la carte avec les deux rouges-gorges sur la branche de houe.
Le jour de l' An avec ma Maman, nous avons tiré les Rois, Je fus la Reine et tu penses bien que mon Chéri fut mon Roi.
Nous n'étions que trois !
Bises !

✿France✿ said...

Je te souhaite une bonne année et je pars me coucher LA gastro est chez moi. Mais je vais revenir te voir si tu es ok
Merci encore je t'embrasse de loin

Elaine said...

Great post and a lovely tribute to your father. I do like to keep decorations up until after January 6th, and I look forward to reading your post next Christmas.

lorilaire said...

Je te souhaite une bonne et heureuse année comme tous ces enfants qui chantent, j'aime beaucoup tes illustrations, tes cartes sont magnifiques !
Bisous Lori

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a lovely themed post for the holiday. I really loved it. I also love those red curls:-). I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Tammie Lee said...

beautiful churches, some people really know how to design beauty. And the angels wings in the Armenian card are wonderful. Thank you for sharing all this beauty and info.

Louis la Vache said...

la galette des rois à Chez la Vache, l'année dernière.


Deborah said...

Vagabonde, I'm not sure I have the nerve to listen to Mr. Kaufmann. The very idea of fundamentalism becoming the predominant influence in our world is distressing, to say the least.

But oh, how I enjoyed this post. You do your research well, and I am richer for it. I was quite fascinated to find out exactly why Dec 25 is the date of Christmas - I had no idea. As for 'Old Christmas' it is just more eevidence that we are the product of our history. Old traditions, old wounds too - they all die hard.

Your father was obviously a tolerant and enlightened man, and you benefitted from that attitude. And this is the only post I have seen which even mentions the Orthodox celebration. Thank you for making the world bigger!
xoxo (and my half-French daughter made a Galette on Dec 25, just because she felt like it)

Dutchbaby said...

I came back for another slice of Galette de Rois.

I didn't remember that you are part Armenian. My very first boyfriend was Armenian - he was very handsome. When I started college in Berkeley three years later, I fell into an Armenian group of friends. I remember how warm, inviting, and family-oriented they were - and the food was wonderful.

BJM said...

Happy New Year to you and your family!

Amanda said...

I watched Mr. Kaufmann's "you tube" and read some of the reactions to his lecture. Oyve!
On my Facebook's religious preference, I wrote "different window shapes looking at the same light".
I hope it will be a good year for everybody. The important thing in life is to be healthy and happy!
Bonne annee Mireille a vous et votre famille!

Jeanie said...

What a splendid post! I knew some of this information, but not all of it, and certainly not much about the Russian Orthodox Christmas, although a friend is of that faith -- but I never quite knew the difference. As always your images really help tell the story. We share a passion for postcards!

I must tell you I was making a cake for Twelfth Night -- I almost put in a trinket -- but then I thought, "No, King Cake must be Mardi Gras." Now I wish I had!

Ginnie said...

It's wonderful to extend Christmas this way, Vagabonde. In the Spanish countries it's the Day of the Kings, or Three Kings Day, in honor of the Wise Men: http://three-kings-day.123holiday.net/. I love how you have honored your father's tradition and background here. Your life was surely enriched because your parents were NOT from the same heritage. What a small lesson for what it would be like for all the countries of the world to recognize and accept each other as in the love of a marriage between two who are not the same. Thank you for sharing this in your own unique way.

Vagabonde said...

Nancy, Kenza, Reader Wil, Miss Yves, Claude, France, Lorilaire, Louis la Vache et Nadège - Merci à tous pour être venus lire mon post. J’apprécie vos visites et espère que vous avez passé un bon Réveillon et que la nouvelle année vous trouve plein d’optimisme. Merci encore pour votre visite.

Vagabonde said...

Pondside, Food Fun and Life in the Charente, Jojo, Ruth, Kay Dennison, Friko, DJan, Shammickite, Pat@ Mille Fiori, Favoriti, Rosaria, Lady from the Hills, Olga, Vicki Lane, Margaret Bednar, Angela, Linguist-in-Waiting, Dutchbaby, Elaine, Mary, Tammie Lee, Deborah, BJM, Jeanie and Ginnie - Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I sincerely hope that you had a Happy New Year and that 2011 is starting with optimism for everyone. I’ll write comments on your individual blogs. Thanks so much for stopping by.

sweffling said...

Hi, long time no see. I've been away in Paris for seven weeks pre-Christmas busy having fun and then into all the usual Christmas chaos at home. Good to be back here though!
On my travels I went to see the Armenien Church in Paris that you mention: I put a couple of photos on my post for 22 November if you want to take a look. And happy new year to you too.

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