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Orthodox Christmas Day in the United States

Many Orthodox Christians in the United States celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. This date works to be December 25 in the Julian calendar, which pre-dates the Gregorian calendar. It is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who is believed to be the son of God.

Is Orthodox Christmas Day a Public Holiday?

Orthodox Christmas Day is not a public holiday. Businesses have normal opening hours.

Candles burning for Christmas in an orthodox church

Special liturgies are held at Orthodox churches when they celebrate Christmas Day.

©iStockphoto.com/Claudiad

What Do People Do?

Many Orthodox Christians in countries such as the United States fast before Christmas Day. Many people identify the Nativity Fast as the period of preparing to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. It is believed that fasting helps people shift their focus from themselves to others, spending less time worrying about food and using more time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. In return, fasting before the Nativity enables one to fully enjoy, appreciate and celebrate the Nativity of Christ.

Many Orthodox Christians attend a special church liturgy on Christmas Day on January 7. Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas Day with various traditions. For example, many churches light a small fire of blessed palms and burn frankincense to commemorate the three wise men’s (also known as Magi) gifts to baby Jesus.  Some parishes have joint celebrations for Christmas Day.

Public Life

The Orthodox Christians’ observance of Christmas Day on or near January 7 is not a nationwide public holiday in the United States. However, parking and traffic around Orthodox Christian churches may be busy around this time of the year.

Background

There are Orthodox Churches in the United States that recognize the holiday dates according to the Julian calendar, for example the Russian, Ukrainian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches. Christmas is still on December 25 in the Julian calendar so the January 7 date is only valid between 1901 and 2100. The Gregorian date for Orthodox Christmas will be January 8 in 2101 if the Julian calendar is still used.

The Julian calendar was revised in 1923 and this version is more in line with the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox churches follow the revised Julian calendar but many Orthodox churches still follow the more traditional Julian calendar, which has the original dates for Christian observances prior to the Gregorian calendar’s introduction.

According to the Orthodox Church in America, many Americans of Orthodox Christian faith celebrate Christmas according to the revised Julian calendar.

Symbols

For many Orthodox Christians, Christmas Day is not about presents, eggnog or Christmas characters that have become popular through commercialization.  Christmas Day is a time to heal the soul. It is also a time of peace and unity.

White cloth is used on dinner tables in some countries to symbolize purity and the cloth that baby Jesus was wrapped in. Straw may be placed on these tables to symbolize the simplicity of the place where Jesus was born.  Candles may be lit to represent the light of Christ and the festive Christmas meal represents the end of fasting.

About Orthodox Christmas Day in other countries

Read more about Orthodox Christmas Day.

Orthodox Christmas Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015WedJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2016ThuJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2017SatJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2018SunJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2019MonJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2020TueJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2021ThuJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2022FriJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2023SatJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2024SunJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox
2025TueJan 7Orthodox Christmas DayOrthodox

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