It’s Christmas for Eastern Orthodox

While many are taking down Christmas decorations and getting ready for the next holiday, some of the Eastern Orthodox Christmas begins Sunday.

After 40 days of fasting, Serbian and Russian Orthodox in Northern Nevada begin eight days of feasting and celebration. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the nativity birth of Jesus Christ almost two weeks after December 25, because it follows the Julian calendar.

The holiday is filled with traditions and customs. Some are part of the area’s practices. Fasting is an important preparation for the holy day and people refrain from animal products.

“Eat, drink and be merry is not part of the preparation,” said Nona Katzenstein, church warden for Holy Royal Martyrs of Russian Orthodox Church. “We will break the fast Sunday at lunch.”

There is not a lot of gift giving, instead the preparation for Orthodox Christmas is to “focus on our soul, spiritual needs and to focus on the feast that we’re celebrating,” said the Rev. James Barfield, rector for St. John the Baptist Serbian Orthodox Mission Parish. Because members of the church mostly are Americans, Barfield said not many of the passed down traditions are practiced. “Come to church, and we’ll be more ethnic,” he said. “I’m always game for that.”

Christmas Eve, Badnje Vece in Serbian, is the beginning of the celebration. According to tradition, the father and oldest son go to the nearest forest on the morning of Christmas Eve and cut the Badnjak tree. It is burned for prosperity. “Some Serbian churches, they have a bonfire,” Barfield said. “It’s a crossover tradition from the Serbian people. It parallels the Christmas tree really.”

While some Eastern Orthodox members eat a 12-course dinner representing each month of the year, Serbians traditionally eat baked beans or prebranac, fried fish and then dried fruits.

“It is a very beautiful tradition,” Barfield said. “If we had a bigger dining hall, I would probably do that.” Barfield said they will greet each other on Christmas Day with “Christ is born.” And the response is “Glorify Him.”