Christian denominations, including many Western Orthodox Churches, prepare to celebrate the Nativity of our Savior Jesus Christ (Christmas) on the 25th of December.
However, some Eastern Orthodox Churches, including the Belarusian Orthodox Church, continue with the Nativity Fast and will not celebrate Christmas until January 7th of the New Year.
Even though the day we celebrate the joyous Feast of Nativity may differ because of some cultural differences and certain traditions, the true meaning of Christmas is the same for all Christians across the globe.
Christmas is that one Christian feast that is so popular that even the non-believers celebrate it in their own way. They say it’s about family and friends, so they exchange gifts and have a big family dinner on Christmas day.
But what is the true Christian meaning of the Nativity of Jesus Christ? What do we really celebrate on the 25th of December or the 7th of January?
First, we celebrate the ultimate God taking flesh and becoming human for our sake. He took our corrupted human nature upon Himself to restore it to its original beauty.
Second, we celebrate God coming into this world to be with us, regardless of our sins. Prophet Isaiah proclaimed centuries before the birth of Christ:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
And finally, we celebrate the fact that the Creator of All, Infinite God Himself does not wish to condemn us in our sins, but rather comes as a humble little child. He doesn’t descend from the sky as a glorious and powerful king. He comes into this world the same as us - tiny, humble and vulnerable.
This Orthodox Christmas hymn explains it to us:
“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake, the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!”
(Kontakion of Nativity)
This is what Christmas is truly about.
Different Christmas traditions is what makes celebrating the Nativity of Christ unique for Western and Eastern Christians.
Western Christians normally attend special church service on Christmas Eve. On the 25th of December, family members and friends exchange presents and in the evening people gather together to pray, share a special Christmas meal and even sing Christmas carols together.
Eastern Christians, on the other hand, attend two Christmas services - the All-Night Vigil on Christmas Eve and then the Divine Liturgy on the 7th of January. Sometimes the Divine Liturgy might be celebrated right at midnight after the All-Night Vigil service.
On Christmas day, Eastern Christian families also gather together to have dinner. Since the Nativity Fast finishes on the 7th, everyone can finally enjoy dairy and meat products at the table. We don’t normally exchange gifts on Christmas day, although parents always make sure to put something under the Christmas tree for their kids.
Here at Saint Elisabeth Convent, we have a special Divine Liturgy at midnight every Christmas. It is one of the most festive and beautiful services of the year - the Convent’s churches and buildings are all decorated with christmas trees and lights, the church is full of people, there are hundreds of those, who wish to receive Holy Communion.
If you are on our mailing list, we will send you Livestream links so that you can be notified when these liturgies begin. If you are not already on our mailing list, please click this link to be included.
Our Choirs sing beautiful Christmas carols and hymns, which the Orthodox know by heart and sing along:
“Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You!” (Troparion of Nativity)
The Sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent wish you a truly merry Christmas this year! If this is your first Christmas, considering to celebrate, or want to dive deeper into the mystery of God becoming man, please make sure to join us in our Liturgical celebrations.
May God continue to bless you and your loved ones, especially during this joyous season!
This year, we have a special surprise for you! Our Children's Choir (conductor matushka Maria Bakhvalova) will sing Christmas Carols and Hymns for you on the 25th of December online!
The live stream will start at 8 PM Moscow time (9 AM PST, 12 PM EST, 5 PM GMT) on our YouTube channel. You can also subscribe to our channel and press the bell button to get notified when we go live!
Also, don’t forget that you can always send us your prayer requests. The Sisters of St Elisabeth Convent will make sure to pray for you and your family during the Nativity season and on Christmas day!
The Sunday after Pentecost, the Orthodox celebrate the Synaxis of All Saints which is also called the Sunday of All Saints. This year it falls on June 27th in the Belarussian Orthodox Church.