Orthodox Religious Christmas Season Background

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Orthodox Religious Christmas Season Background

You think the Christmas Season starts early because there are door buster sales on Black Friday in retail or online stores? Think again, the Greek Orthodox Church begins its preparation on November 15th (though the Church doesn’t start its Christmas carols until November 21st). That preparation is called the Nativity Fast (which there is another article about), and it starts 40 days before Christmas. Though in common practice there are no “different” services offered, as during Great Lent or the Dormition Fast, this is the second longest fast of the Orthodox Church (unless you belong to an Old Calendar Church, in which the Apostles fast can potentially be longer).

The Christmas hymns that I mentioned earlier are the seasonally changing Katavasia, which are hymns chanted during Orthros/Matins on Sundays and Major Feast days from November 21st to December 31st. These hymns reflect on what an awesome miracle that is the Incarnation of Christ.

We all have heard the Christmas Carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and I think we have confused these days for the 12 days preceding Christmas. These days are actually supposed to be the days following Christmas, the days in between the feast of the Nativity (Dec 25 – Christmas) and the Epiphany/Theophany (Jan 6 – the Bapstism). Satan seems to find his way into even how we celebrate our feasts, confusing our culture and our faith, even though the feast belongs initially to the Faith and has been transposed to the culture. The Church intensifies the fast period around the 10th day of December, which means that all those work holiday parties, all of our friends Christmas parties, our own Christmas parties, and even Christmas Pageants at our own churches all take place during the time set aside for preparation through pray, fasting and almsgiving. With New Year’s so quickly after Christmas, many of us see December 25th as the endpoint. We stop hearing Christmas Carols, the décor in the stores change to heart-shaped boxes of candy and we no longer find long lines at the mall.

Of course, we have our other culturally confused portion of Christmas, Santa Claus, or good ole Saint Nick. This jolly, bearded, and hefty gift-giver has given a bad name to one of Orthodoxy’s greatest saints, St. Nicholas Bishop of Myra. Yes, St. Nicholas was a very generous man in his life, but we are doing our children a disservice by not giving them the real story of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is seen as the best example of a bishop in the Church, and he is commemorated every Thursday, alongside the apostles, as the holy Hierarchs and prototypes of our Church.

Please, do not take my words here as hating on our “American” Christmas. I have lived a wonderfully full life of Christmas carols, eggnog, trees, parties and so on. I just believe that it is important to know the truth about the feast, when we should be celebrating, and most of all, WHY we are celebrating.

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This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.

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