Art Culture > Christmas traditions in the Orthodox Church Date posted: January 2, 2014

Christmas traditions
in the Orthodox Church

Orthodox Christmas 2014: Russian Serbian and Greek Traditions from songs to food

For the west Christmas is done and dusted but the East are just getting started. Celebrating their Christmas on the 7th of January, the Orthodox Christian Churches have an array traditions that can rival the west for beauty and meaning.

For the Eastern Orthodox Churches of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Christmas usually takes place on the 7th the day after the west celebrates the Epiphany. In general the Christmas celebration in Russia and the East is a far more religious affair with more attention paid to spiritual matters than commercial affairs. Ultimately though, Christmas in both cultures is a time to get together with family and friends and to be joyful.

Orthodox Christmas 2014: Russian Serbian and Greek Traditions from songs to food

As in advent, 40 days of fasting are observed leading up to , late on Christmas Eve January 6th when the family get together for a meal. The head of the family will greet each person as they enter with the traditional Christmas greeting of ‘Christ is born’ to which the response is ‘Glorify him!’. Traditionally Orthodox Christians cut a branch from a tree, a Badnjak and bring it into their home, it is ceremonial Christmas log that is burned on the family hearth on Christmas. Bread is torn by hand and shared with all present symbolising the Last Supper and many families scatter straw around the table, as a reminder of Jesus’s birth in the manger.

Orthodox Christmas 2014: Russian Serbian and Greek Traditions from songs to food

On Christmas morning, the mass, which is longer than in the West anyway, takes on epic proportions and people light candles in honour of Jesus, as light of the world. Afterwards people walk in a procession to a sea, lake or river if possible. The water is blessed as part of an outdoor ceremony, and some people will take the blessed water back to their homes.

The Russian Santa Claus is named Ded Moroz, or Father Frost. Accompanied by Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden. During the 90s Santa Claus began to appear in Russia, but with the resurgence of the country in the 00s an emphasis was placed on the Slavic character of Ded Moroz.

Orthodox Christmas 2014: Russian Serbian and Greek Traditions from songs to food

In Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and some parts of Poland, Kutia, a sweet grain pudding, is traditionally served and is often the first dish in the traditional twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper. In Serbia on Christmas Day a bread known as Cesnica, with silver coin inside is served, along with roast pig, with side dishes of sausage, roast potatoes and nut strudel. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, sesame baklava is baked on Christmas Eve while Christopsomo is the bread baked on Christmas Day.

Orthodox Christmas 2014: Russian Serbian and Greek Traditions from songs to food

In Ethiopia, more than half the population are Orthodox Christians. People attend church on Christmas day, and are given candles as they enter the church. After lighting their candles the entire congregation processes three times around the church. 

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