Just about the time when most of us are taking down our Christmas trees and packing up our ornaments for next year, Armenia is ramping up for week of holiday festivities. In Armenia, Christmas falls on January 6th and Christmas Eve is celebrated the night before, January 5. This is because Armenians–for centuries–followed the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
Armenia was also first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in AD 301, when they established the Armenian Apostolic Church. It wasn’t until 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was created. Most countries (including Armenia) now follow the Gregorian calendar, but a few Eastern Orthodox churches, like the Armenian church, still use the Julian calendar for calculating the dates of certain feasts. The Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar and this is why Armenians observe Christmas on January 6.
And to make matters more confusing (but only for us westerners), Gaghant Baba (aka Santa Claus) comes to visit on December 31, bringing gifts to the children. Lighthearted celebrations, like those with Gaghant Baba, are kept separate from Christmas itself, which is revered as a solely religious holiday.
Where the New Year is concerned, the 21st of March was the date Armenians were faithful to. For hundreds of years, this date marked New Year, the beginning of spring and the birthday of the mythical God Vahangn. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Armenia adopted January 1st as the official first day of the New Year.
For children, the New Year brings a lot of excitement. Many centuries ago, it was customary for children to gather together on New Year’s Eve and wander the streets of their village, singing songs to their neighbors, welcoming the New Year. In return, they received fruit as gifts.
These days Armenian families enjoy dried fruits, special pastries and cakes, some of which are only made at this time of year. Cakes might even have a coin hidden inside, bringing the finder good luck in the coming year. Dolma, grape leaves wrapped and stuffed with rice, are also part of the New Year’s feast.
Families in Armenia spend a fortune (I’ve read that the equivalent $700 US isn’t unusual) buying food to ensure there is always enough for anyone and everyone who might stop by. They readily open their homes and their hearts because– for Armenians–come on over to my house is what the season is really all about.
Take the road less traveled, Beth