Many Americans are Celebrating Christmas Twice … Here’s Why

January 7, 2017

For those who dread the approach of New Years as it marks the end of the warm and fuzzy holiday festivities, you may now have another opportunity to extend the Christmas cheer!

With an estimated three million Orthodox Christians living in North America*, churches locally and around the world celebrate the birth of Christ on January 7, following the tradition of the Julian calendar. The original Julian calendar was introduced in 35BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar. Though the majority of the Western world follows the Gregorian calendar date of December 25, offered in 1582 by Rome’s Latin Pope Gregory, many Eastern Orthodox Christians have chosen to maintain the original date.

From Russia to Jerusalem, Orthodox Christians around the world uphold the feast of the Nativity with great reverence. It is less commercialized, more spiritualized. Adherents in the States, though often more adjusted to Western customs, are no exception to this. Preparations for the season commence with a strict fast, eliminating meats, dairy and any overly tempting luxuries that would prevent the believer from diving deep into a time of reflection and meditation.

Once the holiday arrives, the breaking of the fast allows for a worthwhile celebration, with unique cultural traditions pertaining to each region. Egypt’s popular dish, Fattah, a mixture of rice, egg, meat and pita bread is a staple for the Christmas season. Roasted lamb is common in various Levantine countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Goat is the go to for countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and freshly baked sugar cookies are common with most devotees, with a great emphasis in Greek and Armenian culture. Many candles are also lit during this time to represent the light that has entered the world through Christ.

Celebrating twice is no strange occurrence for believers who have grown up with both calendars.

“I have friends who find it odd to have a separate date from the rest of the country, but I remind them that many parts of the world celebrate on the 7th, not just my community. Being American and Orthodox gives me an opportunity to extend the Christmas spirit, so it is actually a childhood dream come true!” says Myrna Abdelmessih, an Egyptian who grew up in both the Protestant and Orthodox community.


The United States has a substantial Christian Orthodox community. It is not uncommon to find these revelries and Nativity liturgies taking place in states like California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania, where diverse Eastern Christian groups reside.

So if you are the type that is looking for an excuse to keep that Christmas tree up and continue the warm melodies that are a special distinction of the season, join the celebration at your local Orthodox Church, and be ready to feast!

-Loureen Ayyoub, @theglobalhuman

*Pew Forum. Estimates vary depending on membership associations.