Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:58 pm (KSA) 14:58 pm (GMT)

Celebrating Christmas Orthodox style

Orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus across the world
Orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus across the world

Almost two weeks after the glitz and glitter of Christmas Orthodox Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on Wednesday during the Feast of the Nativity, commonly known as Orthodox Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas

Christmas is celebrated by Orthodox Christians on Jan. 7 according to the Julian calendar and follows 40 days of fasting to mark a time of reflection, self-restraint and inner healing, which is broken on Christmas Eve when the first star appears.

When the star is seen, people lay the table ready for the Christmas supper.

"For us, the 40 days preceding the feast is not a time of celebration; it's a time of fasting, reflection, and communion," Elan Saad, Egyptian Orthodox Christian told AlArabiya.net.

Fasting for Orthodox Christians means abstaining from eating meat and keeping a vegetarian diet following what Orthodox Christians believe was the diet of Adam at the beginning of creation.

"We abstain from eating animal products and instead we eat 'food from the earth'. At the feast on Jan. 7. we can resume our normal diet in celebration of the birth of the Messiah," Saad explained.

"The feast is the fulfillment of the anticipation because you fast for so long and then you celebrate at the end," she said.

Palestine

Somber celebrations at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem

In Palestine, despite the deadly Israel raid on Gaza, Palestinian Orthodox Christians scaled back on celebrations, and in Bethlehem authorities cancelled all Christmas celebrations except strictly religious events.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theofilos III, surrounded by clergy and pilgrims, took part in a procession outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus.

The service, held in the presence of senior Palestinian figures, was bittersweet as heavy thoughts of the suffering of Gazans shadowed the service.

"We celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Hope of humanity, but our thoughts are with the people of Gaza," George Rashmawi, told AlArabiya.net.

North America

An Orthodox Christian mass in the U.S.

Many of the United States’ 1.2 million Orthodox Christians marked Christmas on Wednesday, though some celebrated the day before. Orthodox leaders said they appreciate being able to focus on the spirituality of the birth of Jesus rather than the commercialism of the holiday season.

By January “the commercialism is gone,” Rev. Andrew Bartek, pastor of St. Nicholas was quoted by the Times Tribune as saying. “People can actually concentrate on the spirituality of Christmas.”

“We celebrate that which should be celebrated,” the Very Rev. John Sorochka, pastor of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Mayfield, explained. “We try to keep Christ in Christmas; that’s the focal point.”

For Orthodox Canadians, the Feast day is a celebration marked by family gatherings and prayers. While some like to double-dip their holidays by observing two Christmas celebrations, others prefer to stick to one.

"I've got three daughters and we start in mid-December with the Feast of Saint Nicholas," Paul Murynka, president of the local Ukrainian Scouting Association, told the Calgary Sun. His family celebrates both Christmases.

"This is very important to us. I've done this since I was little, and my kids expect it every year," said Savedchuk, a daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. "We don't celebrate on Dec. 25, it just doesn't feel right."

Egypt

Pope Shenouda III in Egypt prayed for Palestinians in Gaza during the Cairo Christmas procession

In Egypt Orthodox Christians follow the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. Copts are Christians whose ancestors embraced Christianity in the first century.

Celebrations in Egypt were marked by a somber mass led by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria Tuesday at the Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.

In a poignant moment, Pope Shenouda expressed solidarity with all the people of Gaza, saying that they suffer as Jesus suffered 2000 years ago.

"Our Mother Mary was Palestinian, and so was Jesus and his disciples. We pray for our brothers and sisters of all faiths in Palestine and particularly in Gaza," he said in a televised address.

Kosovo

Serbs celebrated their first Christmas in Kosovo since independence on Wednesday amid fears of a fresh flare-up of violence in the ethnically-divided town.

Dozens of people prayed in the Orthodox church St Dimitrije in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, a town populated mostly by Serbs. But due to a recent wave of violence, the traditional midnight mass was postponed until early in the morning.

Serb houses and premises were decorated with Yule logs while the time-honored burning of a pile of logs known as "badnjak" took place on Christmas Eve in front of the church, followed by fireworks.

The town is divided with Serbs living on the north bank of the Ibar River and ethnic Albanians south, where there are many Serb cemeteries and the main Orthodox church, the St Sava.

Kosovo declared independence nearly a year ago after being under the U.N. umbrella since a 1999 NATO air war wrested control of the province from Serbia. More than 50 countries have recognized Kosovo's statehood, which Serbia and Russia strongly oppose.

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