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Orthodox Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas

January 6, 2011
By MARK J. MILLER, staff writer

Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ today with Christmas Eve services and other customs stemming from Christians in the Eastern world.

Traditionally celebrated by Orthodox Christians 13 days after the traditional Western observance of Christmas, the day's date goes back to the Gregorian calendar, which predates the Julian calendar used by most in the West.

The activities for different orthodox churches vary, but the day is usually reserved as a day of reflection and customs with roots in Eastern ethnic communities including Serbians, Russians, Bulgarians, Greeks and others who observe the ancient calendar.

These customs include the lighting and blessing of the Yule log, the decoration of an oak tree and a Lenten meal served Christmas Eve, often called "the holy supper."

Others use the occasion for fasting or the ending of a fast at the appearance of the first star in the night sky on Christmas Eve. Russian Orthodox Christians usually observe a meatless meal with the entire community contributing toward a hearty banquet.

The burning and blessing of the Yule log is an ancient tradition with roots in the East and European countries. Also an ancient pagan symbol marking the beginning of the winter solstice, the burning of the Yule log was adopted by Christians in the East and often included the burning of the log on Orthodox Christmas Eve while asking blessings from God for the coming year. Some customs include the sprinkling of holy water on the log accompanied by prayers for good health, happiness and include burning the log through Orthodox Christmas day. Different Orthodox Christians use the Yule log in different ways centering around ancient ethnic customs unique to that church.

Many customs shared by Westerners, such as Christmas trees, the giving of gifts and the singing of Christmas carols, also are observed by many Orthodox Christians, but Orthodox Christians usually observe the day with less secular activities than their Western counterparts. Locally the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 300 S. Fourth St., celebrated the Holy Theophany, or Orthodox Christmas, with an Orthros service and the Divine Liturgy service his morning.

(Miller can be contacted at

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