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Two Christmases. Difference Between Catholic And Orthodox Traditions In Belarus

Catholics of the world have celebrated Christmas two weeks ago. Orthodox believers are preparing to do so on January 7th. But Belarusians, being the people on the crossroads of two religions, are marking both Catholic Christmas and Orthodox Christmas.

The tradition of two Christmases in Belarus explained in five simple questions and answers.

orthodox christmas belarus

Why two?

You might already know that, but the message merits repetition.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas several weeks after Catholics because they use a different calendar – the Julian calendar – to mark the holy day.

So mainly or largely Orthodox countries including Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, and other mark Christmas on 7 January.

For Belarus, in particular, 70% to 80% of the population claim themselves Orthodox and 12% are Catholic Christians, which makes Orthodox Christmas a more large-scale celebration statistically.

The presence of two church traditions makes it even more interesting if one recalls that it also brings two New Years and two Easters to Belarus.

And that’s not the end! Although Belarus has been a Christian country for centuries, Belarusians loved their pagan traditions and did not want to let them go easily.

Instead, we skilfully mixed them with religion to get some unique celebrations like Kalyady in winter or Kupalle in summer.

So what about Santa and gifts?

Sorry to disappoint, but Santa is your hero, not ours. In Belarus, kids wait for Father Frost (aka Ded Moroz) and find presents on New Year’s Eve.

Read also: Belarusian Ded Moroz, who is he? 

It is not common to exchange gifts on Orthodox Christmas although families may do for the joy of children.

Family holiday vs church celebration

Another major difference between Catholic Christmas and Orthodox Christmas is the meaning of the holiday. While for Catholics Christmas is a family holiday that people spend home with their beloved ones, in Orthodox tradition Christmas is more about spirit and unity.

Like the leader of the Belarusian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Paul explains in a recent interview, “New Year is a family holiday, Christmas not quite.

Orthodox Christmas is a good symbol of true Christian love and the unity of family life, caring for each other, but the holiday itself goes far beyond a family celebration. It has global, planetary meaning.”

Needless to say, Orthodox Christians would try to go to church on Christmas.

Now, to religious rituals

Catholic believers can choose from three Christmas masses – night, morning and afternoon.

In Orthodox church, believers attend only one, but a long mass – All-night vigil that starts at midnight and lasts till the morning of January 7th.

Besides, in the Orthodox tradition Christmas is preceded by 40 days of strict fasting. Those who can not or don’t want to fast that long will refrain from food on January 6th until the appearance of the first star in the night sky symbolizing the birth of Jesus.

Eat, pray, love

The Christmas Eve meal is traditionally meat and alcohol-free, but the table is anyway abundant. It usually consists of 12 dishes for the 12 apostles.

A main meal is “kutia”, a cold porridge-like dish made out of whole wheat, poppy seeds, raisins, walnuts and honey. The rest of the meal varies but frequently includes fish, soups, veggies like beans, cabbage, and pickles, and fruits like apples.

All family members should take part in holiday preparations. During Christmas dinner, there should not be any quarrels or arguments.

On the day of Orthodox Christmas, Belarusians would prepare a big dinner, this time all foods allowed. Christmas Day, January 7th, starts with a visit to the church (unless you’re already there for the All-night vigil).

That’s pretty much it when it comes to the differences between Catholic and Orthodox Christmas. We believe, however, that be it December 25th or January 7th, what’s more important are our similarities and our common wish for peace and love.

So Merry Christmas, or like we say in Belarus, З Раством Хрыстовым!

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