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.
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 post, here, is to the memory of my father (Je n’ai pas oublié – I have not forgotten.)
Don't forget to click to enlargeWhile 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.
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.
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.)
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, 1593-1678But 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 …
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.
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.)