Christmas in Armenia

Christmas in Armenia

Why do Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6?

Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the world.  The exact date of Christ’s birth is not recorded in the Gospels and has not been established by any other source.  However, all Christian churches celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6th until the fourth century when the date was changed to December 25 by the Roman Empire.  Historically, December 25th was a pagan festival which celebrated the birth of the sun.  At that time, many Christians continued to celebrate pagan holidays and in order to undermine the pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christ’s birth and January 6th as the feast of the epiphany.  However, Armenia was not influenced by this change and has continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th like our oldest Christian ancestors.

The lasting effects of the Soviet Union on Christmas in Armenia…

Armenians lived under the rule of the atheist Soviet Union for 69 years.  Under Soviet rule, almost all churches in Armenia were closed, left to deteriorate or used as schools or other non-religious buildings.  Armenia, the first country in the world to declare itself a Christian state in the fourth century, was forbidden from observing the birth of Christ.  During the Soviet era, the communist government discouraged the telling of the Christmas story and instituted a tradition of Grandfather Frost bringing gifts on New Year’s Eve. Armenians began to celebrate Christmas and New Year together on New Year’s Eve. 

After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenians slowly began to reopen the churches and publicly celebrate their religious holidays.  While Armenians are now free to celebrate their holidays, the 69 years of Soviet rule had a strong influence on the society.  Until now, in most homes, Christmas and New Year are mixed into one holiday to some extent.  The New Year receives the biggest celebration and emphasis with a big feast and the exchange of gifts.  Starting the week before New Year’s Day, the women begin working into the morning hours to prepare two weeks’ worth of traditional New Year’s dishes.  It is the Armenian tradition that from January 1-7, all of your friends and family members must pay a visit to your home and with each visit you must heat up the food and spread out the same feast for your guests. 

On Christmas Eve, January 5, some families go to visit the church where they are given a small candle lamp which they carry home, symbolizing that the “Good news” is coming into the world.  Christmas day, on January 6, is celebrated more solemnly than the New Year with a traditional meal of fish, rice with raisins, wine and special Armenian sweet bread and some families attend a worship service at the church on Christmas morning.

On Christmas, Armenians greet each other with the words, “Christos tsnvets yev hytnetsav” which means, “Christ was born and appeared”.  They answer by saying, “Dzez yev mez mets avedis” which means, “It is great news for you and for us!”