The Origins and Practice of Holidays: Feast of the Nativity

January 7, 2019 - Feast of the Nativity

As we mentioned in our post on Christmas, Western Christian churches celebrate Christmas on December 25. However, Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate their Christmas on January 7. They typically call this day the Feast of the Nativity. The reason Eastern churches celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on January 7, is because they still follow the Julian calendar. There is a thirteen day gap between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar, which Western churches use. January 7 on our calendar (which is Gregorian) is December 25 on the Julian calendar. To learn more about the difference in these two calendars, read our post about New Year's Day. This post will focus more on how Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. For information on the origins of Christmas, you can read our earlier post on Christmas.

Orthodox churches are more common in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Many of the traditional meals served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are reflective of those cultures. For example, in Greek Orthodox tradition, baklava, kourabiethes, melomakarona, and other pastries are baked on Christmas Eve. Christopsomo (Christ's bread) is baked on the Day of the Feast. In Russian Orthodox tradition, the meal on Christmas Eve includes twelve different foods. This includes a traditional Kutia, made from wheat, honey, poppy seeds and raisins. The Kutia is like a porridge, and the seeds represent symbols of hope for the new year. Some Orthodox traditions involve fasting in some form for 40 days prior to the Feast of the Nativity. 

On the Feast Day, some observers cut a branch from a tree and bring it into their home. This symbolizes Jesus entering their home and hearts. People great each other with the traditional greeting of "Christ is born!", and respond, "Glorify Him!" Then, the bread present at the feast will be torn and shared with everyone. Some families have straw scattered at their table as a reminder of Jesus' birth in the manger.

In the United States, many Orthodox families choose to celebrate their Feast of the Nativity on December 25th. This is because it is a holiday off from work and school. Many also participate in the more Western tradition of exchanging presents on the 25th. For people who follow Orthodox traditions, the Feast of the Nativity is not the largest celebration of the year. Easter (Pascha) is actually their largest celebration. 

To learn more about Orthodox traditions, and the Feast of the Nativity, check out these items below:

The Orthodox Church

Gregorian Chant: Hymns and Vespers for the Feast of the Nativity

If there's a particular celebration you or someone you know participates in that we missed, let us know by leaving a comment on this post. Or, if you think we got something wrong, please also comment and let us know. We try to be as accurate as possible, but if there's a mistake, we want to correct it.