Christmas in Armenia (How To Say, Tradition, Food, Celebration)

The world celebrates Christmas on the 25th of December, however, this is not the case for the Armenian Orthodox Church. The Armenians mostly celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January.

Evangelical Armenians also follow the historic date of Armenian Christmas, but the Armenian Catholics, follow the Catholic Church in Rome and celebrate on December 25.

The holiday season for Orthodox Armenians starts on New Year’s Eve. Santa Claus (Gaghant Baba- Kaghand Papa) traditionally comes on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) because Christmas Day itself is thought of as more of a religious holiday in Armenia.

When Do Armenians Exchange Christmas Gifts?

Armenians do not celebrate on the 25th of December when most people exchange gifts. They party on New Year’s Eve and exchange gifts. Santa Claus or Kaghand Papik visits at midnight.

“What is Kaghand and Kaghandika? Kaghand is the start of the month, Kagandika is the beginning of the year,”

Anania Shirakatsi in his book “Cosmology and Tomar.”

The word “Kaghand” comes from the Latin word “calendar”, which in Armenian means the first day of the New Year.

Indeed, the understanding of the New Year is also expressed by the word Kaghand. Congratulating each other on that occasion is “kaghandel”, the gift is “kaghand-tchek”, and the songs are “kaghandos.”

Let’s also remember the different names of the New Year:

  • Amanor- ա­մա­նո­րի
  • Amanoraper- ­ա­մա­նո­րա­բեր,
  • Taremout- տա­րե­մուտ,
  • Taregloukh- տա­րեգ­լուխ,
  • Tarin Gloukh տա­րին գլուխ,
  • Tarenor- տա­րե­նոր,
  • Nor Tari- նոր տա­րի,
  • Noraber- նո­րա­բեր,
  • Navasard- նա­ւա­սարդ,
  • Dzaghkemout- ծաղ­կը­մուտ

When is Armenian Christmas 2023?

The Armenian Christmas date is a fixed date. Every year on January 6th, Armenians gather in their Churches to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Next year Armenians will celebrate Christmas on Friday, January 6, 2023. However, there are some Armenians who follow the Armenian Catholic Church, they celebrate on the 25th of December as well.

How to say Merry Christmas in Armenian?

In Armenian, the phrase “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” is said as “Շնոհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ- Shnorhavor nor Dari yev Sourp Dzenount” meaning Blessed New year and Holy Birth.

Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund (Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ) (which means ‘Congratulations for the New Year the Holy Birth’).

At church, we say “Քրիստոս Ծնաւ եւ Յայտնեցաւ, Օրհնեալ է Յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի” (Chrisdos Dzenav Yev Haydnetsav, they answer, Orhnyal e Haydnutiunnen Chrisdosi). Meaning, that Christ is born and revealed, and the answer is, Blessed be the Revelation of Christ.

Armenian Orthodox Christmas

The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. On the same day, we also celebrate the ‘Epiphany’ (The Revelation that Jesus was God’s son).

Epiphany is now mainly the time Churches remember the Visit of the Wise Men to Jesus; but some Churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus (when he started his adult ministry).

What food do Armenians eat on Christmas Eve?

Some Armenians fast (don’t eat anything) the week before Christmas. They receive Holy Communion during the mass at midnight on Christmas. Christmas Eve is called khetum ‘Խթում.’

In the past, as well as in some regions of Armenia today, dishes prepared with cereals are indispensable on the New Year’s table.

The lighter vegan meals on the menu are designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for a more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives.

Every house is ready with lots of sweets because anyone might knock on the door and come in for a party! The abundance of the New Year’s table was mandatory, believing it would ensure the abundance and prosperity of the coming year.

Christmas Eve Meals includes dishes such as:

  • Aghantz- Ա­ղան­ձ is prepared with the roasted ground and crushed mixture of different grains.
  • Kejehakhash- Կճ­ղա­խա­շ is also food prepared with grains, it is cooked in a kettle, keeping it in a stove- թոնիր for a whole night.
  • Harissa is also cooked in the stove- թոնիր. It symbolizes the food ensuring the abundance of agricultural work of the new year.
  • Bean salad should be a must on the New Year’s table. Loretsik used to say: “The New Year will not come without beans.”
  • Anushapur (Armenian Christmas Pudding), is made with chopped fruits and cooked wheat or bulgur.
  • Then the tolma contains 7 different grains. 7 is a divine number.
  • Khozee bood (glazed ham) and dried fruits.
  • rice,
  • fish,
  • nivik ‘նիւիկ’ (green chard and chickpeas),
  • yogurt and a wheat soup called tanabur ‘թանապուր’.

Christmas Desserts include:

  • dried fruits
  • nuts,
  • rojik (whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly)

How is Christmas celebrated in Armenia?

At the beginning of December, a big Christmas Tree (Tonatsar) is put up in Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

Other regions decorate their trees with colorful ribbons, in addition to hanging apples and pears on the naked branches of trees.

Armenian Christmas Traditions by Areas

Christmas customs

On the occasion of the New Year, our ancestors cleaned the house and the stable well. They tied a red ribbon from the horns of the animals and put on new clothes in order to welcome the coming year with a clean and happy mood.

  • In Shirak, before cutting the new year’s bread, the mother of the house, holding the bread, would turn around the Tonir oven 3 times, making good wishes.
  • In Tiflis, they baked human shape pieces of bread called Chik, and Eq. The Eq was kept in flour so that it would multiply, and the chick was thrown into the water so that it would disappear like the previous year.
  • The patriarchal family gathered in Javakhk on New Year’s Eve. the father and mother sat at the head of the house, the others approached them in order of seniority, kissed their hands, and congratulated them on the New Year, receiving Vasil as a gift.
  • In Hamshen, it was a custom to bless everything, besides congratulating each other. They also congratulated barns, livestock, and storage, wishing luck and success.
    On January 1, it was forbidden to break a nut or an acorn so as not to break the plow. They also believed that the 12 months of the year would pass like the weather of the first 12 days of the New Year.
    Visiting guests on New Year’s morning was not accepted, because the given person could bring luck or misery. Only a previously invited child could visit the house of those who invited him.
    Gifts were given to the children who used to sing folk songs wishing them a good year.
  • In Caesarea, the mother of the house would take the bread to the spring and throw it into the water in order to “կա­ղըն­տէ ” the water.
  • In Akhalkalak, on the night of January 1, young people would go to the river, throw barley and wheat into the water, and then bring the holy water home.
  • It was believed in Lori that in the middle of the night of the new year, the rivers would stop for a moment and the one who took water at that moment, would become rich and whatever he asked for would be fulfilled.

There was also another interesting custom. On the last day of the old year, they brought home a big log, which was called the New Year’s log. With it, they used to burn it to heat the house from the first day of the New Year until Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, the ashes of the log were thrown into the heaps to prevent hail and ensure an abundant harvest.

In some villages, women tied red cloths and threads from the branches of sacred trees, so that the coming year would be happy, abundant, and lucky.

And the Armenian New Year’s tree was decorated on a dry branch by hanging fruits, garlands, and pastry on colorful threads.

In Beirut: Although most Christians in Lebanon celebrate Christmas on December 25, the Orthodox and Evangelical Armenian church members celebrate the holy day on January 6. To locals it is Epiphany, but Armenians celebrate the two events in one day.

Christmas trees are decorated at homes, with the nativity scene that is displayed underneath, and it typically includes figures of the three Biblical Magi, shepherds, and Mary and Joseph. Jesus is added on Christmas Eve.

In Bourj Hammoud, the area has a large number of Armenian schools, restaurants, businesses, cultural centers, and churches, Christmas is celebrated from the beginning of December to the middle of January.

Christmas trees, lights, decorations, music, and a lot of pop-up Christmas activities put you in the mood of the season. Children’s entertainment groups are reserved in advance to pass by on New Year’s eve and give out gifts.

On Christmas Eve, after Mass and Dinner, Young people, members of local Sunday schools, choirs, and Christian brotherhoods, with their bells, guitars, and accordions, gather and turn about local neighborhoods singing Christmas carols and hymns and announcing good news and bringing Joy.

On the 7th, it is memorial day and people visit cemeteries to pray for their loved ones who have left them.

Why do Armenians Celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January?

Armenians celebrate the sixth of January for historical and traditional reasons. The nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem took place on the sixth of January. According to the Armenian church, when Jesus was 30, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John The Baptist, for which Epiphany is celebrated.

The Catholic Church also celebrated Jesus’ birthday on the sixth of January. But as Christianity spread into Europe, the day was merged with a Roman pagan holiday celebrated on December 25.

In the first years, the holy Fathers went to Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas, and going to the Jordan River on the same day to be present at the Epiphany Celebrations was hard.

The pagans celebrated the victory of the sun over darkness on December 25th. The day of the winter solstice. The holy Fathers found a resemblance between the story of Jesus defeating Evil and the sun defeating darkness, therefore they moved the celebrations to December 25th.

Armenians didn’t bother.

Garo Kotchounian

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