Christmas comes but twice a year

Posted On January 7, 2007

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Orthodox and eastern-rite faiths are celebrating this weekend
Armenians celebrate Christmas today. Some other Orthodox churches observe Christmas tomorrow.

While most Christian clergy can take a breather after the busy Christmas season, Rev. Gomidas Panossian’s workload is just reaching its peak. Last night he planned to conduct mass at the Soorp Nishan Armenian Apostolic Church in Cambridge, where he serves as pastor.

Today he is serving mass. Tomorrow, another mass. And during the next month he will visit about 100 homes where he will bless parishioners’ water, bread and salt, as per tradition. No matter, he said in an interview earlier this week. “It’s our job. No problem. We’re ready all the time.”

About half-a-dozen congregations in Waterloo Region are celebrating Christmas this weekend. Armenians celebrate today. Some other eastern-rite churches mark the birth of Jesus tomorrow. Orthodox and eastern-rite churches in the region include Armenian, Serbian, Coptic (Egyptian Christians), Ethiopian, Ukrainian-Catholic and Ukrainian-Greek congregations.

Although most churches in the West follow a calendar refined by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century, many eastern churches observe holy days according to the Julian calendar, which was commanded by Roman dictator Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

Not all Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas this weekend. Some, like most western churches, mark Christmas on December 25.

Priests aren’t the only busy people this week. Many lay people, choir directors and other volunteers, are scrambling to organize family dinners or church celebrations.

Nick Skomorowski, helped erect the Christmas tree at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Sophia in Waterloo earlier this week. Mary, his wife, had already started preparing a meal for their five children and eight grandchildren planned for tomorrow. But Christmas this year is a bit more relaxed than in other years because it falls on a Sunday. In years that it falls on a weekday, some people have to cut back on the celebrations and continue to go to work, Nick Skomorowski said.

In years when Christmas falls on a weekday, there are fewer volunteers available to help get the church ready for Christmas, said Mike Buzadzija, longtime member of Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church in Kitchener. But there’s always enough help to get the church and dining hall prepared for tonight’s Christmas Eve mass and communal supper, he said. The Waterloo man has been busy all week helping put on the festivities.

On Tuesday, Buzadzija drove to a friend’s property in Goderich and collected a van-load of oak branches. Children from the church’s folklore dance troupe tied the branches and strands of straw into hundreds of little bundles. Parishioners will take them home after tonight’s service. Volunteers shuffled tables and chairs in the church hall for tonight’s dinner of fish, beans and bread. Tonight, Buzadzija and three other men will brew a special Serbian tea made of plum brandy and boiled water mixed with a bit of sugar.

As parishioners file from the church into the dining hall tonight, most will take a cup of the special tea which is only made on Christmas Eve, he said. “That’s the old tradition” he said. “It’s to keep you more warm this evening, usually it’s cold outdoors.”