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[/images] BEIRUT: Lebanon hasn’t boxed up its Christmas decorations just yet, as the celebrations are just beginning for some. A large percentage of Lebanon’s prominent Armenian community celebrates their version of the holy day Tuesday, Jan. 6.

The sixth is Epiphany for most Christians, but Armenians use the day to celebrate a culmination of the season’s events.

For them, the sixth is Christmas, celebrating the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it also symbolizes Epiphany, when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. Unlike the Orthodox and Protestants who follow the historic date of Armenian Christmas, the Armenian Catholics, however, follow the Catholic Church in Rome and celebrate on Dec. 25.

“They go with the [Catholic] pope and with Rome,” Zara Sirop Hagop said with a slight chuckle. Hagop is one of the local mukhtars in Beirut’s Burj Hammoud neighborhood.

While large sections of the Lebanese-Armenian population have moved out of Burj Hammoud over the years and integrated into other areas, the neighborhood is still strongly connected to the community through the ubiquity of Armenian restaurants, businesses, cultural centers and churches.

Christmas decorations are still hung over main thoroughfares, with white lights dangling in the shape of snowflakes, illuminating the streets and spreading Christmas cheer. Shops are decorated for the holiday, with many storefronts painted with the English words “Merry Christmas.”

“Geographically it is known as an Armenian neighborhood,” Hagop said. “There are many Armenians but there are also Shiites and Lebanese Christians, as well as many foreigners moving into the area.”

The reasons Armenians celebrate on the sixth are historical and traditional. Until the fourth century, the Catholic Church also celebrated Jesus’ birthday Jan. 6. But as Christianity spread into Europe, the day was merged with a Roman pagan holiday celebrated Dec. 25.

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the birth of Christ Dec. 25 and Epiphany Jan. 6. Armenians, however, decided to stick with the traditional, historical and “correct” day for celebrating Christmas, as expressed by one person interviewed by The Daily Star.

Tuesday is a national holiday in Lebanon, meaning shops will be closed across the country, but in Burj Hammoud most establishments – 90 percent according to the local mukhtar – will stay closed Wednesday as well, as Armenian Orthodox and Protestants partake in a two-day celebration.

Taking a break from preparing for the Armenian Orthodox St. Sarkis Church’s 4 p.m. Mass Monday, 19-year-old Phillipe Jinian told The Daily Star about some of the customs his community participates in for Christmas. People will gather and sing hymns for the neighborhood Monday evening.

Sitting behind his office desk, Hagop said that the midnight carols bring joy to the community and are paired with music from accordions, guitars and other instruments. Here, they deliver the story of Christmas in a musical manner.

“The people go to each building in the neighborhood and sing the story of Jesus Christ,” Hagop said.

The next day, families come together to celebrate the occasion with food and holiday spirit.

“We gather and eat together [on Christmas Day],” Jinian said, adding that it is customary to prepare fish. Other traditional Armenian Christmas dishes include rice, wheat soup and nevik – a dish made of green chard and chickpeas. Lebanese Armenians, however, are likely to include a number of fusion dishes that have culminated from their time living in and integrating into Lebanese society.

A second Mass is often attended by families on Armenian Christmas Day. Unlike most Christians in Lebanon, however, the Armenian community doesn’t stop the party after Christmas.

“We celebrate tomorrow but also the day after tomorrow,” Hagop said, with a wide smile on his face.

Armenian families take part in a tradition that is unique to their culture on Jan. 7. They visit cemeteries where their loved ones are buried. Here, they pray and take the time to remember and spend time with those who have died.

“In Armenia they go live and spend the whole day there,” Hagop said. “They eat in the cemetery.”

Hagop said that the celebration in Lebanon is not as extravagant as those in Armenia, where it is an act that the entire nation takes part in.

After the day at the cemetery, a Mass is planned for the various Armenian churches. There are four Armenian Orthodox churches in Burj Hammoud alone and even more outside. Priests from the various houses of worship gather with the community to hold a large Mass at Burj Hammoud’s Nursing Home.

Also unique to the Armenians, Christmas gifts are traditionally doled out on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31. In Armenia, Christmas Day is more of a religious holiday therefore the gifts are handed out beforehand.
– See more at: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Lubnan/2015/Jan-06/283150-christmas-the-armenian-way.ashx#sthash.walV4uim.dpuf