KOLKATA: The Armenian population in Kolkata, numbering about 300 (those who are baptised), celebrated Christmas on Friday.
Unlike other Christians, the Orthodox Armenian Church doesn’t celebrate Christmas on December 25. Armenians say that nobody is certain of the exact date of Christ’s birth and they prefer to celebrate an Advent Period instead, which culminates in Christmas on January 6. The celebrations started with mass at the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth.

“Our mass is slightly different. During the service, the priest has his back turned towards the congregation. He does so as the ‘body and blood’ of Christ are kept in the Tabernacle on the altar and the priest can’t turn his back on God. During service, the crucifix is brought down and used to bless a baptismal font full of water. This is used as holy water throughout the year. The water is also blessed with holy oil. This is the same oil that St Gregory used when he took Christianity to Armenia. The same ingredients have been used to make the oil for over 2,000 years now,” said Anthony Khatchaturian, a member of the community.

The priest neither touches the Bible directly (it is wrapped in silk cloth) nor does he read from it. He sings praises unto The Lord instead. The service is always in Armenian.
According to Khatchaturian, the church at Armenian Street was originally named Nazar’s Armenian Church after founder Aga Nazar. Over the years, it came to be called the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth.

After service, the Armenians got together for Christmas lunch. Over the years, the community in Kolkata has adopted the Anglo-Indian cuisine as most ingredients used in Armenia aren’t available here. “One of Bengal’s favourite dishes ‘Potoler Dorma’ has its origins in Armenia. We call it ‘Dolma’ and use grape leaf to wrap the mincemeat instead,” Khatchaturian said.
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