Around the world, Orthodox Christians welcome the birth of Christ with feasts, processions and family traditions. Traditions are a great way to come together and enjoy time with our loved ones and community, but more than that, many of our cultural Holiday traditions are deeply connected to, and remind us of, our Orthodox faith. Though we may not all celebrate the same way, practicing our traditions, and sharing these unique traditions across the global Orthodox Community, can strengthen our faith and our connectedness as one Orthodox Church while preserving our unique identity as Orthodox Chrisitans.
Remember, one of the best ways to draw near to each other at Christmas is through the Liturgy of the Church. In between attending services in person, take advantage of live streaming services as you prepare your Nativity celebration at home!
Ukraine – Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper)
In Ukraine, the Christmas Eve meal, known as Sviata Vechera, is a central tradition. Families gather to share a twelve-dish vegetarian meal, symbolizing the twelve apostles. The table is adorned with straw, symbolizing the manger, and the meal includes kutia (a dish made from wheat, poppy seeds, and honey), borscht, and various pastries. After the meal, families may attend a church service.
Palestine – Christmas Eve Procession in Bethlehem
In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, a grand Christmas Eve procession takes place. Pilgrims, tourists, and local Christians gather in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity. The procession often includes scout groups, religious leaders, and the local community, marching through the streets with festive music, banners, and the presence of the Patriarch.
Armenia – Christmas Eve Bonfires
In Armenia, Christmas is celebrated on January 6th. On Christmas Eve, Armenians light bonfires in their yards or in public spaces. These bonfires symbolize the light that came into the world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Families attend church services, and after the midnight liturgy, they return home to share a festive meal that often includes dishes like rice pilaf, fish, and traditional Armenian pastries.
Serbia – Badnjak (Yule Log)
In Serbia, the Badnjak is an important Christmas Eve tradition. A Yule log, symbolizing the warmth of Christ, is ceremoniously cut and brought into the house. It is then lit in the evening, accompanied by prayers and well-wishing. Traditional Serbian Christmas celebrations also include a festive meal with dishes like roasted pork, walnut roll (orehnjača), and poppy seed roll (makovnjača).
Greece – Christopsomo (Christmas Bread)
In Greece,”Christopsomo” or Christ’s Bread is a special Christmas bread that is baked in many Greek households during the holiday season. Christopsomo is typically a sweet bread enriched with flavors like orange zest, honey, and spices. It is often shaped into a round or braided loaf and decorated with symbols such as a cross or the Nativity scene. Before baking, the bread may be imprinted with family initials or other designs.
Bulgaria – Koleduvane (Christmas Caroling)
In Bulgaria, the tradition of Koleduvane involves young men, called koledari, going door to door singing Christmas carols. They are often dressed in traditional costumes and carry a decorated stick or staff. The koledari are rewarded with small gifts, money, or food. The caroling is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the households.
Lebanon – Mawlid al-Masih (Christmas Processions)
In Lebanon, Christmas is celebrated with festive processions and parades. Processions often include church services, hymns, and a reenactment of the Nativity scene. Homes and streets are decorated with lights and ornaments, creating a vibrant and joyful atmosphere. Traditional Lebanese sweets and dishes are prepared for family and friends.
Georgia – Alilo Procession
In Georgia, the Alilo procession takes place on Christmas Day. Participants, often dressed as characters from the Nativity story, march through the streets singing carols and carrying icons and banners. The procession concludes at a central church where a special Christmas service is held. Donations are collected during Alilo to support charitable causes.