When is Christmas Day?

"I have to be home for Christmas," she told us. We were at the very first Australian Conference of Christian Youth, arranged by the still new Australian Council of Churches in 1951. It was an exciting time as we came to know young people from many different Christian denominations, including the Orthodox Churches. Held in NSW in the Blue Mountains, the conference began on 2nd January and was to run for a week; but now one of our new friends, a Russian girl, said she had to leave early. She needed to be with her family and church for Christmas. For the first time, I realised that not everyone celebrated the birth of the Christ Child on 25th December.

Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate Christmas Day on 6th / 7th January. They belong to churches such as those in Russia, Serbia and Macedonia that follow the old Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar. This causes them to have Christmas later than other Christians like us who follow the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII who introduced his reformed calendar in the 16th century.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Greece and in places like Australia and America celebrates Christmas on 25th December but some other parts of their church still keep the later date. In Bulgaria the “official”Christmas Day holiday is on 25th December but many Bulgarians are members of the Russian Orthodox Church and so gather for Christmas services on 7th January.

Here in Australia, where up to 5% of our population belong to various Orthodox churches, we have become increasingly aware of other Christians whose special celebrations fall on dates different from ours.

Norah Norris

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