Дорога домой. Выпуск ДД-12.04а  [28нбр10]
December, 25/January, 7

Thy birth, O Christ our God,
shined upon the world the light of wisdom.
(Christmas Tropar')

The birth of Christ (Christmas) is the biggest Orthodox Holy Day after Paskha (Easter). Below is the description of the Holy Day, its significance, the Christmas Lent and the celebration.
    Contents: Introduction; (1) The Birth of Jesus Christ; (2) The beginning of the Christian Culture; (3) The Christmas Lent; (4) Sochel'nik (Christmas Eve); (5) The first Day of Christmas; (6) Christmas Show "Yolka"; (7) Christmas in the West; Conclusion.

Introduction. The Birth of Christ (Christmas) is the biggest Orthodox Holy Day after Paskha (Easter). Paskha is the Holy Day of all Holy Days and besides it, there are still 12 more great Holy Days ("Twelve Holy Days"): (1) Nativity of Mother of God, (2) The Entry into the Church of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, (3) Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, (4) Christ's Christmas, (5) Meeting of the Lord, (6) Baptism of the Lord, (7) Transfiguration of the Lord, (8) The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, (8a) Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, (9) The Ascension of the Lord, (10) The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, (11) Dormition of the Mother of God, (12) The Elevation of the Lord's Cross. The icons of the Twelve Holy Days, are on the church's iconostas, in the second row of icons, beginning from below. Holy days serve for us as a school of virtue and piety and remind us of high truths of faith. In Orthodox Russia Paskha and the Twelve Holy Days were civil holidays.

1. The Birth of Jesus Christ. The birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (Luke 2:1-21), has been predicted by many prophets. One textbook of God's Law describes this historical event as follows:

"The Roman emperor August has ordered in all lands subordinate to him the national census. For that purpose every Jew had to go to the city where his ancestors lived. Joseph and Maria went to Bethlehem to record their names. Here they could not find a place in a house, since because of the census in Bethlehem has gathered a lot of people, and stayed outside of the city in a cave, where shepherds rounded-up cattle in a bad weather. Here at night Most Holy Maiden bore (delivered) the Baby, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths (long narrow strips for binding babies to prevent free moving) and put in a manger (feeder for cattle, instead of crib).
    At the night when the Christ was born the Bethlehem shepherds were grazing their herds in a field. Suddenly an angel appeared to them. Shepherds got scared. But the angel told them: "Do not be afraid! I am bringing you the great joy: this night the Savior of the world was born and here is a sign for you: you will find the Baby in the swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. At this time many angels appeared in the sky who were glorifying God and singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men".
    When the angels disappeared, shepherds started saying: "let us go to Bethlehem and see, what the Lord announce to us". They went to the cave and found Maria, Joseph and the Baby laying in a manger. They bowed to Him and told Joseph and Maria what they saw and heard from angels. "

2. The beginning of the Christian Culture. The birth of Christ means the end of pagan culture and the beginning of Christian on which our whole present civilization is based. The pagan period was the darkest period in the history of mankind and was characterized by pride (arrogance), cruelty, polygamy, blood feuds, slavery and even human sacrifices. Christianity gradually brought "the light" into the world: love, humility, forgiveness, kindness. It explained the great truth, that basic forces in human society are love and kindness which promote (further) creative forces. Evil and sin promote destructive forces which bring harm and evil to the surroundings, including the sinner himself. All present values and norms of a civilized society, and also the law, writing, education, art was created under the fruitful influence of Christianity. Our chronology begins with the birth of Jesus Christ's. The influence of Christianity on Russian culture is even deeper than on the other people since the Russian written history, writing and culture actually begins with the conversion to Christianity. Besides this, Russian people received their Christian faith when all Church disputes have been resolved and therefore they received the Church stronghold which cannot be said about other nations.

3. The Christmas Lent. One of the most basic features in the Orthodox faith, it that it is necessary to pray, live righteously, not to sin and to do good deeds. Besides this, it is necessary to grow spiritually, to expel from oneself evil, sinful actions, words and thoughts; that is to gradually correct oneself and become better, kinder, more honest, etc. Before great holy days the Orthodox Christian intensifies his spiritual labor (works) and also fasts. During lent he tries to stay away from everything that is sinful and comes closer to everything virtuous.
    This attitude is supported by a bodily fast; staying away from the meat and, in general, animal food, together with limiting oneself in food. And so, during the lent one cannot eat meat, fish, eggs, milk, vegetable oil and wine. On Saturdays and Sundays one can have fish, vegetable oil and wine. On holidays which coincide with the lent, the lent becomes less strict, wine and even fish is allowed.
   Ordinarily during lent people have confession and communion. Thus, lent becomes time of spiritual and moral growth and preparation for a holy day.
    During lent, the home is prepared for a great holy day. The house is tidied up, gifts for members of the family and friends, and especially for children are obtained, and also the meals for a holy day is prepared. Letters with congratulations and good wishes and a brief review of the news of a family of the letter writer are written to relatives and good friends.
    The Birth of Christ (Christmas) is preceded with the Christmas fast which lasts 40 days; from November, 28th and until January, 6th (on a new calendar). On January, 6th (on December, 24th on an old calendar) is referred as "Sochel'nik" (Christmas Eve). Until evening divine service, during this day is strict fast; one can have only bread, water, fruit, etc. [02янв08]

4. Sochel'nik (Christmas Eve). On Sochel'nik, around 7 o'clock in the evening Christmas Night Vigil (evening church service) which last about three hours. After church service the Christmas officially begins. When people meet each other, they greet with words "Marry Christmas" or "Happy Holy Day" and they answer "thanks , and you too". Ordinarily the whole family is in church. Sometimes, the lady of the house has to remain at home to prepare food and set up the table, to set up and decorate the Christmas tree and to take out and set up the gifts under the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree and gifts until now were hidden.
    After the service the family comes home and "razgovl'aetsia" (breaks the fast). Before the meal, instead of an ordinary prayer (Our Father), everyone sings Christmas Tropar' and Kondak (the prayers dedicated to the Holy Day). Then everyone sits down at the table. The strict fast has ended, the Holy Day has already begun, but it is still a fast. In the house, ordinarily in a corner, is richly decorated Christmas Tree, and under the tree gifts from "Santa Claus". (Ordinarily gifts from parents and other members of the family). One is still not supposed to touch the gifts. Everyone sits down at the table and has supper. The table is festive. Ordinarily the meal is as follows: for zakuska herring, then fish soup (ukha), fish, potatoes, salads, vodka, wine, etc. For dessert kutia, fruit compote and tea or coffee. Kutia is prepared from wheat with poppy, nuts and honey. If there is no wheat then it is possible to replace with rice. Kutia is tasty and it is prepared only once a year, for Christmas.
    Sometimes for various reasons it is impossible to go to church. Then everybody waits for "the first star". When it appears in the sky then the Holy Day has started and one can sit down at the table.
    Ordinarily this sacred evening is devoted to the family and close relatives, but people without a family are also invited, and sometimes people who are nearly strangers. After supper, everyone goes to the Christmas tree, takes a seat near it and somebody starts distributing gifts. More often it is somebody from the young ones. Gifts are pulled out from under the Christmas tree, the inscription is read for whom it is, and distributed slowly and with the Christmas spirit and feeling. Receivers thank "the Santa Claus", open the gifts and show i to all. Everybody is curious and asks questions, is pleased and in every possible way supports the presents. This way the Sochel'nik ends and everybody slowly goes away to sleep.

5. The first Day of Christmas. On 7-th of January, on the first day of Christmas, at 10:00 o'clock in the morning there is a church divine service -- the Liturgy. Those who could not attend church on Christmas Eve, come to the Liturgy. Russians living abroad, try to not work on the first day of Christmas -- they take a day off.
    Christmas is celebrated for three days: 7, 8, and on January, 9th. During the first day the ladies, the wives stay at home, and men, friends of the family, go from house to house to congratulate their relatives and friends. Tables are set up everywhere, all day long. The food served is non-Lenten. Ordinarily it is: for zakuska herring, then soup, chicken, ham, potato, salads, vodka, wine, etc. For dessert there is kutia, strudel, pirog, fruit compote and tea or coffee. Visitors and the hostess sit down at the table for half an hour, eat little bit, and then say goodbye and the visitor goes to see other relatives and friends. It is necessary to visit all relatives, then good friends, especially senior and the elderly. During these days the gifts are not brought. On the second day of Christmas the wives visit, and the husbands are stay home, but this is no longer practiced. At present time, on these Holy Days, many families make arrangements to simply go and visit each other.
    Before, the children used to go with a star from house to house and were singing kol'adki (Christmas carols). Outside of Russia, children from some Russian children's organizations (boy scouts), go to Russian houses and sing kol'adki (carols).

6. Christmas Show "Yolka". During Christmas or right after it, the schools and various children's organizations make Christmas shows, mainly for children. Everything begins with a prayer, then Christmas Tropar' and Kondak are sang. Then there is a show in which children participate. There are kol'adki (Christmas carols), songs, poems, plays and dances. Then Santa Claus appears with a huge bag of gifts and sits down in an armchair on the stage. All children approach Santa Claus, and he distributes the gifts. Then there are children's games and circle dances around the Christmas tree. There is also a buffet, a raffle and so on. Since in one city there are often many "Yolkas" many parents with the children try to visit several of them.

7. Christmas in the West. In the western countries Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. This day everywhere is a family holiday and therefore these days everyone wants to be with their relatives and the traffic on all transportation routes is very heavy. If there is no opportunity to get together then the congratulations are done by phone. Unfortunately western Christians lost the idea of a lent being a spiritual and moral preparation and therefore during that period before the Holy Day have loud receptions and sales.

Conclusion. The birth of Christ is celebrated throughout the whole world and in almost every country. As previously mentioned, Christmas is a reminder that Christian teaching is the foundation of our life and also our entire civilization.

Духовный листок «Дорога домой. Выпуск ДД-12.04а -
Рождество Христово»
Храм всех Святых в Земле Российской просиявших (АНМ),
г. Бурлингейм, штат Калифорния
Church of all Russian Saints (AM),
744 El Camino Real, Burlingame, California 94010-5005
эл. стр.: http://www.dorogadomoj.com/
de1204rhr.html,  (I-й вып: 07янв94),  28нбр10