The Nativity of Christ celebrated on Sunday
While the memories of Western Christmas are fading away, millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate their Christmas Sunday, which they prefer to call the Nativity of Christ.
Some of the Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate the Nativity of Christ according to the Julian calendar. At one time, all Christians followed the Julian calendar. But the mean year in the Julian calendar was slightly too long, causing the vernal equinox to slowly drift backward in the calendar year.
So in 1582, Pope Gregory VIII decreed that the Gregorian Calendar, which dropped days to bring the seasons back into synchronization, would be used.
Eastern Orthodox Christians continued to celebrate the Nativity of Christ according to the Julian calendar, making December 25 fall on January 7 by Gregorian calendar calculations.
In 1925, some Orthodox churches adopted the Gregorian calendar. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Mount Athos in Greece (which is an autonomy, falling under the Ecumenical Patriarchate and not the Church of Greece authority) Russian and Serbian Orthodox churches stuck to the Julian calendar.
The Eastern Orthodox Nativity of Christ is not greeted with festively illuminated streets and homes. We expect the light of Christ to illuminate us and, through intensified prayers and fasting, we try to prepare ourselves spiritually.
There is no exchange of seasonal gifts. Orthodox Christians celebrate receiving the most precious gift, the Nativity of Christ. In all the hustling about regarding gifts and meals, one tends to forget the One we are celebrating.
Orthodox Christians greet one another on that day and the two following days not with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” but with “Christ is Born. Indeed He is born.”
We also remember the meaning of Christmas by spreading straw on the floor of our dining rooms to signify that the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, was born in a cave and laid in a manger. Many Orthodox Christians eat Christmas Eve supper not at the table, but sitting on the floor.
Whether Christians celebrate on December 25 according to the Gregorian or January 7 according to the Julian calendar, we all celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ.