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January 5, 2015January 5, 2015  0 comments  Geography

With snow predicted to fall in Jerusalem on Wednesday, it may very well be a white Christmas for Orthodox Christians. Much of the world might be enjoying after Christmas sales but in the Holy Land, two more Christmas holidays are yet to come. The Holy Land is surely unique and celebrating Christmas three times Dec. 25 (Catholics and Protestants), Jan. 6 (Orthodox) and Jan. 19 (Armenian Orthodox only in Jerusalem and Bethlehem) -more than in any other place in the world.


Two calendars - Three holidays


Due to calendar differences most Orthodox Churches including the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian celebrate nativity on January 6 and 7, which is the date known as Old Christmas Day because this is the date that the first Christian emperor, Constantine, assigned as the date of Christ's birth in 325. Later in 350 Pope Julius declared that Christmas would be celebrated on January 6. Much later, in 1576, Pope Gregory made the switch to the Gregorian calendar (named in his honor) and 13 days were ‘lost' in the switch, which is why Christmas was moved to December 25 for Latin Catholics. Christian Orthodoxy did not follow the calendar change for another 200 years  yet they still kept the original January 6th date. Meanwhile the Armenian Church in Jerusalem decided to hold onto the original January 6 date and then added the lost days to it which is why their Christmas is on January 19.


Orthodox Christians follow many unique traditions in their celebration of Christmas. The most significant tradition is the holy fasting that occurs for between 40 and 25 days depending on the country of origin. The fast generally includes obstaining from meat products, and certain foods such as kidney beans, garlic, Lenten bread, nuts and fresh dried fruits. Special foods such as baked cod are also traditionally eaten.


The tradition behind having a Christmas tree originates from a pagan tradition for Latin Catholics. However, for Orthodox Christians, the tree possesses biblical significance as it is a reminder of  the paradise tree of fruit found in the biblical story of Adam and Eve.


Even the tradition of what Latin Catholics refer to as Santa Claus is different for Orthodox Christans who, instead, celebrate St. Nicholas for Orthodox Christians.  St. Nicholas was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, also known as ‘Nikolaos of Myra' (in modern day Turkey).


Moreover, Orthodox Christians place much significance on Christmas songs or canons. These are sung from the Holy Day of "Vavedenje" on the December 4, until the January 13, which is the Day of the New Year and is often called Small Christmas. Just like New Years eve is celebrated on December 31, all Orthodox Christians celebrate New Years eve on January 13.


Orthodox churches situated in Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar.

Armenians have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. They were the first community to adopt Christianity in in 301 AD. Today the Armenian population living in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City totals around 2,000 residents.


Upcoming Catholic Epiphany,  Orthodox Christmas and Related Celebrations:


Monday, 5th January 2015 (Vigil):

11.30 Solemn Entry of the Custos, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM

13.45 First Vespers

14.45 Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

15.30 Compieta and second procession to the Grotto of the Nativity


Tuesday, 6th January 2015, Feast day:

Nativity Church and St. Catherine's Church

10.00 Solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land

15.30 Second Vespers and procession to the Grotto of the Nativity


Armenian Celebrations:

January 11th - James the Major and St. John
January 19th - Christmas Day



BASILICA OF THE NATIVITY, Manger Square, Tel. 02-2742440, Fax: 02-6282048


January 6th, 2015

4.30    Coptic Mass at the Armenian Altar of the Nativity

8.30    The Syrian Archbishop arrives at Manger Square

10.00  The Coptic Archbishop arrives at Manger Square

12.45  H.B. the Greek Patriarch arrives at Manger Square (Vespers, Liturgy ends at 15.30)

13.00  Syrian first Liturgy and Exaltation of the Holy Cross in The Grotto

14.30  Coptic Vespers

15.00  Syrian Vespers

22.30  Greek Matins

22.40  Syrian Mid-Night and morning official Order Prayers

23.00  Coptic Mid-Night and morning official Order Prayers

00.00  Greek Service, ends at 3.30 am


Note: The ROMANIAN CHURCH (Tel. 02-6263034, Fax: 02-6264628) participates in all liturgies and prayers of the Greek Orthodox Church.


ETHIOPIAN CHURCH - ETHIOPIAN MONASTERY OF PEACE-CHURCH OF EYESUS, Milk Grotto Street, Tel. 02-6282848, Fax: 02-6264189


January 6th, 2015

15.00  Arrival at the Manger Square and procession to the Church of Eyesus

16.00  Vespers till 5.00 pm

20.45  Bells, prayers

21.50  Laudes (Mahlet)

00.00  Midnight Liturgy (Kidassie)


January 7th, 2015

6.00    Dispersal or completion of the Festivity




January 18th, 2015

11.00  Arrival of H.B. the Armenian Patriarch on Manger Square

14.00  Entry in the Basilica of Nativity - Vespers and Christmas Eve Mass

22.00  Armenian Midnight Service, ends at 1.00 am


January 19th, 2015 (Feast of Epiphany starts)

1.00    Blessing of the Holy Water & Episcopal High Mass in the Grotto

6.00 End


GREEK CHURCH - CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, Old City, Tel. 02-6284202, Fax: 02-6282048

January 6th, 2015:

23.00  Midnight Service


ROMANIAN CHURCH, Shivtei Israel Street 46, Jerusalem, Tel. 02-6263034, Fax: 02-6264628

January 6th, 2015:

19.00  Vespers


Jan. 7th - 9th, 2015:

9.00    Holy Liturgy


RUSSIAN CHURCH (MOSCOW MISSION), Russian Compound, Tel. 02-6252565, Fax: 02-6256325


January 6th, 2015:

17.00  Vespers at Holy Trinity Cathedral

January 7th, 2015:

00.00  Divine Liturgy - Holy Trinity Cathedral


ARMENIAN CHURCH -ST. JAMES CATHEDRAL, Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road, Tel. 02-6282331


January 25th, 2015:

17.00  Vespers in St. James Cathedral



January 18th, 2015:

13.00  Eve of the Nativity

January 26th, 2015:           

8.30    High Mass


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on Christian tourism. People can learn, share and plan their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


December 31, 2011December 31, 2011  0 comments  Events

"Christ is born! Glorify Him!" is the great message delivered among Orthodox Christians worldwide during Christmas, the holiday which brings in the true flavor of the birth of Our Lord. The fragrance of the nativity of Jesus Christ is celebrated with much grace in the Orthodox world.

Orthodox Christmas is truly the celebration of the great mystery of the Incarnation: The mystery in which God the Word became man in order to redeem human beings; God became one among us and incarnation affirms the importance of both man and the whole of creation.


Reseasing the doves during Epiphany

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theopholis III releasing doves during the traditional Epiphany service at Qasr El Yahud, photo courtesy Travelujah


Orthodox Christianity - Fasting

Holy fasting is one of the most important parts of the orthodox nativity celebrations. Eastern orthodox Churches fast for 40 days where many of the oriental orthodox churches hold a 25 day fasting. The Coptic Orthodox Church observes an additional fast for three days before the beginning of the Nativity Fast, to commemorate the miraculous moving of the mountain of Mukattam (Cairo) at the hands of Saint Simon the Tanner in the year 975, during the rule of the Muslim Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz Li-Deenillah.

The Armenian Church observes fasting one week prior to the nativity celebrations. Orthodox Church stresses the complete abstinence from non-vegetarian food and other pleasures during fasting periods. Special recipes of food will be cooked and served: Lenten bread and other food such as nuts and fresh dried fruits, vegetables and herbs such as potatoes, peas, and garlic, mushroom soup, slow-cooked kidney beans with potatoes, garlic and seasoning, Bobal'ki (small biscuits combined with sauerkraut or poppy seed with honey), bowl of honey, baked cod etc. The type of food and activity may vary depending on the particular country's culture and traditions.

For more on Orthodox recipes click here.

Dates of Nativity

Due to calendar differences Orthodox Churches celebrate nativity at different dates. Most of the eastern orthodox churches such as the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian celebrate Christmas on January 7, 2012 - which is according to the Gregorian calendar, and which day is also known also as Old Christmas Day. This is because 11 days were lost to account for the calendar differences once the Julian calendar was created). The Gregorian calendar predates the Julian calendar which identifies Christmas, as being on 25th of December, and is celebrated by Latin Catholics.

The Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 6th, which coincides with Epiphany which represents the feast of the Manifestation of Christ. Its theme is the baptism of Jesus in the Eastern church. Hence the Armenians celebrate Christmas and Epiphany together' on a single day which is called 'Theophany'.


Epiphany on the Jordan

Pilgrims being baptised at the Jordan River during the Feast of Epiphany - Photo credit:Travelujah-Holy Land Tours


In Jerusalem, however the Armenians celebrate Christmas on 18th of January and travel to Qasr El Yahud, the baptismal site on the Jordan River. To learn more on this click here.

The Armenian Orthodox will celebrate Christmas on January 18th.

Several traditions, One Faith

Different Orthodox churches have customs practices and traditions according to their land of origin, but at the same time all churches are united in one faith. It is the same expression of the undivided church at different places in the world. The practices and traditions observed in orthodox churches definitely have biblical reflections. For example let us consider the case of Christmas tree. Many people relate Christmas tree to pagan tradition. But Orthodoxy has a very different view on Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is derived, not from the pagan yule tree, but from the paradise tree adorned with apples on December 24/January 7 in honor of Adam and Eve. Hence the Orthodox Church considers the Christmas tree completely biblical in origin.

For more information on the origin of the Christmas tree in the Orthodox Church, click here.

At many places Orthodox Christians walk to rivers and seas in procession as part of the nativity liturgy. Holy Christmas songs (canons) are sung from the Holy Day of "Vavedenje" on the 4th of December, until the 13th of January, which is the Day of the New Year and is often called Small Christmas. For more information on this Feast click here:

Santa Claus for Western Christians is St. Nicholas for Orthodox Christians. He was also known as ‘Nikolaos of Myra', a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, now based in modern Turkey.

For Orthodox Christians, Christmas is a day for inner thoughts, reflections, repentance and healing.


Travelujah's Schedule of Orthodox Christmas and Epiphany Events in the Holy Land


January 5, Eve of Epiphany

5 a.m. and 7: 30 a.m. at the Manger Grotto for holy masses

11 a.m. at the Tomb of Rachel the Custos of the Holy Land is welcomed by Latin Parish Priest and other representatives of Bethlehem

1:45 p.m. at St. Catherine for Pontifical vespers and procession to the Grotto

3:30 p.m. at St. Catherine for Office of Readings and procession to the Grotto

January 6, Epiphany

Midnight at the Grotto

Holy Masses till 9 a.m. with an interruption between 1 and 2:30 a.m. approximately

7 a.m. at St. Catherine for holy mass

10 a.m. at St. Catherine for Pontifical mass in Latin and Arabic

3:30 p.m. at St. Catherine for solemn vespers and solemn traditional procession to eh Grotto; Veneration of Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh

January 8, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord at Qasr El Yahud

The fraternity of the Custody of the Holy Land holds its traditional pilgrimage to the baptismal site of Qasr El Yahud on the river Jordan on that date. All are welcome to take part in this special event.

Mass at Qasr El Yahud - 10 am



Wishing you all a blessed Nativity and peaceful New Year.

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George Alexander is Travelujah.com's  Orthodox Christianity Expert. He is the Secretary & Spokesperson for the Orthodoxy Cognate Page, Society and Media Network.






January 7, 2013January 7, 2013  0 comments  Events

With blustery weather conditions throughout the Holy Land it certainly feels like Christmas, and it still is for many of the world's Orthodox Christians.  While Latin Christians celebrated Epiphany on January 6 with a special liturgy at the Church of St. Catherines in Bethlehem and their festivities will continue with the Baptism of the Lord at the River Jordan on January 8, Orthodox Christians including Coptics, Syrians, Greek and Ethiopian Orthdox are now beginning their Christmas celebrations with the Feast of Nativity on January 7. Below are the upcoming religious celebrations  in the month of January.


Catholic Celebrations:

January 8 - Baptism of the Lord at the River Jordan


Orthodox Celebrations

January 7th - The Nativity of our Lord (Orthodox)
January 14th - New Year, Circumcision
January 18th - Blessing of the Holy Water (River Jordan) (Greek)
January 19th - Blessing of the Holy Water (River Jordan) (Syrian & Copts)
January 19th - Epiphany (Feast of Theophany)
January 20th - St. John the Baptist


Armenian Celebrations:

January 11th - James the Major and St. John
January 19th - Christmas Day

Custody of the Holy Land and Theopolis III

Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista and Greek Patriarchate, Theopolis III; photo courtesy; Travelujah


For more about the Catholic celebration of Epiphany in the Holy Land view this video showcasing the arrival of Custody of the Holy Land, Fr PierBattista at Manger Square,nd the continuing celebration at St. Catherines on the morning of January 6.

January 4, 2011January 4, 2011  2 comments  Holy Sites

Orthodox Christmas in the Holy Land continues this week with Orthodox Christians celebrating their holidays and most of their services and festivities taking place on Christmas eve, Jan. 6.


Greek, Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians will converge at Manger Square in Bethlehem for their Christmas nearly two weeks after the Catholic and Protestant celebration of the holiday.


The disparity in the dates stems from the year 336 when Constantine declared Christianity the empire's religion. Eastern churches continued to commemorate Christmas on January 6 as the date for Christ's birth and his baptism, which up till then was celebrated as part of the Epiphany, the observance of the Magi arriving to see Jesus. The Western church continued to celebrate the Epiphany on Jan. 6 separate from Christmas and the Eastern churches celebrate the Epiphany on  Jan. 18.


Then in the 16th century Pope Gregory devised a new calendar. The Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants retained the Julian calendar, which meant celebrating Christmas 13 days later than their Gregorian counterparts.


If you are in Bethlehem, it won't be hard to find any number of services and vespers. Here is a schedule of events:


Church of the Nativity


Anne Buchan inside the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem





1. Greek, Syrian and Coptic Churches

Basilica of the Nativity, Manger Square


9 a.m. The Syrian Archbishop arrives at Manger Square


9:30 a.m. The Coptic Archbishop arrives at Manger Square


1 p.m. The Greek Patriarch arrives at Manger Square

Liturgy ends at 3.30 pm


1 p.m. Syrian Vespers


2:30 p.m. Coptic Vespers


10:30 p.m. Greek Matins


11 p.m. Syrian Liturgy


10:40 p.m. Coptic Liturgy


Midnight Greek Service, ends at 3:30 a.m.


2. Romanian Church

The Romanian Church participates in all liturgies and prayers of the Greek Orthodox Church.


3. Ethiopian Church

Ethiopian Monastery of Peace-Church of Eyesus,

Milk Grotto Street


3:30 p.m. Arrival at the Manger Square and procession to the Church of Eyesus


4 p.m. Vespers till 5 p.m.


8:45 p.m. Bells, prayers and veneration of the Icons


9:50 p.m. Laudes (Mahlet)


Midnight Liturgy (Kidassie)


January 7


4 a.m. Special Breakfast of the day


6 a.m. Dispersal or completion of the Festivity






1. Greek Church

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Jan. 6, 11:15 p.m. Midnight Service



2. Romanian Church

Shivtei Israel Street 46


Jan. 6, 7 p.m. Vespers


Jan. 7/8/9, 08:30 a.m. Holy Liturgy



3. Russian Church St. Mary Magdalene, Gethsemane


Jan. 6, 10 a.m. Vespers, Liturgy of St. Basil


5 p.m. Vigil Service


Jan. 7, 8 a.m. Divine Liturgy


4:30 p.m. Vespers


Jan. 8, 7 a.m. Divine Liturgy



4. Russian Church (Moscow Mission)

Russian Compound, Sheshin Street


Jan. 6, 5 p.m. Vespers at St. Alexandra Chapel


Midnight, Divine Liturgy at St. Alexandra Chapel



Nicole Jansezian writes for http://www.travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Users can learn, plan and share their travel experiences on Travelujah.

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