For many in Canada, Catholic Christmas is one of their favourite holidays and is perhaps celebrated in the country more brightly than other holidays. According to the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar in most countries since the end of the sixteenth century, Christmas is the night from December 24 to December 25. This date is celebrated in the USA, most countries of Western, Central and Southern Europe — and not only Catholics but also Protestants who adhere to the Gregorian calendar. However, for some countries, December 25 is not a particular day. According to the old Julian calendar, which is attached to Orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated on the night of January 6-7. On the same day, the event is marked by Eastern Rite Catholics. The most famous and prominent Orthodox churches are the Churches of Constantinople, Greece and Bulgaria, which also belong to the family of ancient Eastern churches. In addition, the feast, according to the Julian calendar, is celebrated in several Catholic communities of the Greek or Eastern rite. As a result, orthodox Christmas is associated with many traditions, signs, and superstitions. The church does not approve of superstitions, but many of them have survived to the present day.
Preparation for Orthodox Christmas uniquely takes place. Believers prepare for Christmas in advance by observing a six-week fast. It lasts from November 28 to January 6. During the fast, believers try to pray more often, visit temples, and help others. The last week of the Christmas Fast is the strictest regarding food restrictions. The last week of fasting ends on Christmas Eve – Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, it was customary to eat at the first star. Today it is observed mainly in monasteries. According to the church charter, on Christmas Eve, they eat after the evening service when a lighted candle symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem is brought to the middle of the temple. Non-fasting dishes, including fish, are eaten only on January 7, after the end of the Christmas festive liturgy. On this day, believers prepare for confession and communion and make dishes for a festive meal. In the temples, starting in the morning, joyful services are held.
Orthodox Christmas has a large number of traditions. One of the ancient symbols of the holiday is a fir tree, as well as a star, which since ancient times it was customary to place on the top of the tree, symbolized the star of Bethlehem, which announced the birth of the baby Jesus. The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas Eve is connected, among other things, with the blessings of the magi, which they brought to the manger of Jesus.
The tradition of guessing at Christmas and subsequent Yuletide days is connected with pagan times. Although the church treated such rites significantly negatively, divination was daily, especially in villages. Girls on Christmas night were guessing at their betrothed; for example, they threw shoes out of the gate — where her toe would point, from that side and wait for matchmakers. And families made “financial” forecasts and tried to find out what the new harvest would be like by observing the behaviour of pets, scattering grains and using other improvised attributes.
Christmas Table Features
Speaking of treats for Christmas, each country has its traditions. In the old days, people believed that the tastier it was, the richer the year would be! Then the whole family gathers at the table, which is served necessarily 12 different dishes.
According to folk traditions, this figure is associated with the number of apostles. As for the menu, according to some sources, it was necessary to include 12 lean dishes; according to others, it was about specific dishes — both fish and meat. Dishes on Christmas tables are diverse. For example, fish dishes, baked or fried piglet (considered the main decoration of the table), fried chicken, duck or goose, pork head with horseradish, homemade sausage, gingerbread with honey, pancakes with jam or honey, bread with poppy seeds and honey.
If you delve into paganism, you can see where the traditional dishes for Christmas came from. For example, pork in paganism was not only used in ritual sacrifices but was also considered a symbol of fertility and wealth, and goose meant prosperity. Some of these dishes have left the Christmas table, and some have been replaced with more affordable and easy-to-prepare. However, the tradition that the Christmas table should contain meat dishes have been preserved to this day. If we talk about alcohol at the Christmas table, then church traditions do not prohibit it — however, you should not get drunk on the holiday. We are delving into folk traditions. Previously, almost every day between Christmas and Epiphany had its dishes. For example, on the second day of the Christmas Yuletide, which falls on January 9, it was customary to bake sweet pies. And on January 13, it was expected to cook “Vasilyev porridge” — a fatty “kutya” with a lot of butter — and, if possible, put a pig on the table.
There were many signs associated with Christmas Eve and Christmas among the people. The most famous tradition was related to the weather. For example, according to the weather and individual events at Christmas, they tried to determine what the whole year would be like and what the harvest would be. For example, a clear sky and sunny weather foreshadowed a good harvest, a cracking frost — for a hot summer, and a strong wind with snow — for early spring. If you can see a lot of stars in the night sky, then the buckwheat harvest would be good. The snow that fell the day before was considered a good omen. Another fascinating tradition is putting on new clothes for a holiday. Many tried to wear new clothes for a holiday — people believed this would bring good luck. Historians say this is where the tradition of celebrating the New Year with something new in clothes came from. If a mouse was in the house at Christmas, it was considered a dire financial forecast for the coming year. Also, bad omens were losing something on that day), breaking a mirror, or an unknown woman entering the house. At Christmas, it was not customary to borrow money — so as not to get bogged down in debt during the year.
Another exciting part is that many prohibitions are associated with Christmas, primarily with different types of physical activity. It is believed that at Christmas, it is impossible to do hard physical labour, clean the house, sew, embroider and so on. The exception concerns only divination — it is considered unacceptable for Christians, not only at Christmas but also on any other day. It is not forbidden to work on the days of church holidays if it is necessary. However, on Christmas Day, the church urges, if possible, to forget about insatiable affairs and entertainment and focus your thoughts on the joy of the holiday. Prayer, attendance at worship and good deeds are much more important than everyday issues, especially today. Also, it is not customary to go to the cemetery at Christmas. However, it is possible to pray for the deceased. Still, if memorial day coincides with a significant church holiday, it is recommended to postpone all related events to the nearest possible post-holiday day.
In conclusion, speaking of gifts for Christmas, there are also no rules here. You can act by the gospel commandments and make a gift secretly, without counting on gratitude. For example, to donate money to charity. Or you can give pleasure to a loved one by giving him something valuable or pleasant. After all, the meaning of celebrating Christmas is to share the joy with other people.