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Orthodox Christmas Day

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Although most people recognize Christmas as a day that occurs on December 25th, what some people don’t realize is that it’s also celebrated in January. Orthodox Christmas Day is celebrated on January 7th and it’s celebrated on this date because many Orthodox churches adhere to a 2,000-year-old calendar known as the Julian Calendar. It’s a day on which people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s also a day for spending with family, prayer, and caring for the poor.

Orthodox Christmas Day
Orthodox Christmas Day

The History Of Orthodox Christmas Day

To fully understand the history of Orthodox Christmas Day - this holiday, we first have to travel back to the 4th century. This is when a group of Christian bishops convened the First Council of Nicaea. The most important item on this ecumenical conference’s agenda was to standardize the date of Easter—one of the most important holidays for the Christian faith. To standardize the date they decided to adopt the Julian calendar—a calendar that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar had adopted in 46 B.C on the advice of Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes. Caesar had adopted this calendar to clean up Rome’s messy lunar calendar and the First Council Of Nicaea thought it was a good solution to clean up their calendar.

Unfortunately, the Julian calendar has a miscalculation baked into it. Sosigenes had overestimated the solar year by approximately 11-minutes. That meant that as time went by, the solar year began to become out of sync. This resulted in a drift of the important Christian holiday. The problem was so bad by the 16th century, that Pope Gregory XIII convened a group of astronomers to address the problem. What these astronomers proposed to solve the problem was a new calendar known as the Gregorian calendar.

During the 16th century, the Gregorian calendar was adopted by much of Catholic Europe, but the Orthodox Church resisted the change. If the Orthodox Church accepted the calendar change, then there would occasionally be an overlap between Passover and Easter. This was unacceptable according to Orthodox Christianity’s holy texts. So instead of accepting the Gregorian calendar, they instead decided to stick with the Julian calendar.

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