December 5, 2020

With Advent and the Nativity Fast in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the official start of the Christmas season might be earlier than one would expect. The answer to when exactly the season begins is a murky one, unless we clear up the issue of calendars first.  For Orthodox Christians following the “New” or Revised Julian Calendar – including the Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Antioch churches – the Nativity Fast begins on November 15th. The period that follows, leading up until Christmas on December 25th, is a period of fasting and preparation. 

Orthodox Christian parishes following the “Old” or original Julian Calendar include the Russian, Serbian, and Georgian churches. This calendar is 13 days behind the New Calendar, which is more or less identical to the modern secular calendar – officially known as Gregorian. What this means is that while the Nativity Fast technically begins on November 15th for those that follow the Old Calendar, it begins on November 28th in practice (13 days behind the Old Calendar). So begins the lead up to Christmas on January 7th. 

Ukrainians, most of which are either Orthodox or Eastern Catholic, officially celebrated Christmas on January 7th – until very recently, when December 25th also became an official holiday on which some Ukrainian Catholics now celebrate.

Religions very similar to Orthodox Christianity, but which are not in communion with each (due to doctrinal differences) include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church (based in Egypt), and other Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions. They all celebrate on January 7th. 

Many of the festivities for each of these communities take place primarily on Christmas Eve, on December 24th or on January 6th respectively. The holiday season also stretches well into January – with New Year’s Day and Saint Basil the Great (the 1st or 14th), the Epiphany or the Feast of Jordan (on the 6th or 19th), and various other saint’s days.

While the complex historical and cultural context is fascinating, what the calendar confusion means in simple terms is that it renders useless commercial Advent calendars!

1 Comment »

  1. […] into January, until Epiphany is celebrated on either the 6th or 19th. (You can read more about the difference in calendars here!) Whether or not individuals strictly participate in the entire fast, this period certainly drives […]


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