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Author Topic: Orthodox Nativity/Christmas traditions  (Read 2180 times) Average Rating: 0
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GabrieltheCelt
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« on: December 01, 2010, 01:49:44 AM »

Hey y'all!

 I was hoping to learn about all the different ways Orthodox Christians celebrate the Nativity/Christmas "season".  Is it customary for your family/culture to have a Christmas tree in your house (or have one at all)?  Do you light candles in your window to be seen by the outside world?  How, if at all, do you decorate your dwellings?  Do gifts play as big a part in your traditions as they do in the USA?

 I haven't put my Christmas tree up yet, but I read recently read somewhere that because the Nativity season is marked with a fast, it's considered 'penitential' and so it's disrespectful (to whom or what?) to decorate one's dwelling until a few days before Holy Nativity.  **I don't mind talking about this, but I hope the discussion mainly revolves around the different customs/traditions.

 Everyone is more than welcome to participate, but please identify what tradition you're from.  I'm really looking forward to learning how we all celebrate our Saviors' birth!!!  Smiley
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« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2010, 07:31:00 AM »

I would like to know about this as well. I was wondering if they use Nativity creches in Orthodox cultures?  Smiley I like those. We always use to make them at my house.
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« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2010, 03:11:32 PM »

Growing up we always had a Christmas tree, but our parents only put it up on Christmas eve, without us, the kids, seeing it. They would also leave gifts for us under it. We thought all these were brought by the local variant of Santa.
Gifts between the adults were never exchanged where I grew up.
Besides that we got gifts on St. Nicholas' eve in our boots, polished and set outside, believing that the saint himself left them there. Besides the gifts we would also get a stick (which parents and grand parents used to beat us with throughout the year and which they jokingly called "St. Nicholas" sometimes) or corn husks, signs that we were disobedient the previous year.
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« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2010, 03:31:37 PM »

Growing up we always had a Christmas tree, but our parents only put it up on Christmas eve, without us, the kids, seeing it. They would also leave gifts for us under it. We thought all these were brought by the local variant of Santa.
Gifts between the adults were never exchanged where I grew up.
Besides that we got gifts on St. Nicholas' eve in our boots, polished and set outside, believing that the saint himself left them there. Besides the gifts we would also get a stick (which parents and grand parents used to beat us with throughout the year and which they jokingly called "St. Nicholas" sometimes) or corn husks, signs that we were disobedient the previous year.

Many Slavic cultures observe traditions similar to those Augustin describes. From parts of Poland, through the Czech lands, Slovakia, Romania and parts of Hungary and Ukraine you will find parallel practices. These typically do not follow the fault line between Western and Eastern Christians, but are common to both. Among all of these peoples you will also find the observation of a Christmas Eve dinner, traditionally consisting of 12 dishes (all prepared for the fast - and of course, garlic!) which takes place at the observation of the first star. In days past, and still to this day in Europe and in some American towns, there would be a form of Christmas Caroling/Visitation called a Bethlehem play or the Jaslickaryj/Bethlehemers. The Bethlehemers would be costumed, carry a wooden Bethlehem Star (Zvizda) and a wooden replica of the parish Church on their journey. They would end up at the Church shortly before Midnight for the Complines of the Nativity in the East and Mass for the Westerners.

There is a lot of information on the internet on these customs. Just search 'Slavic Christmas Customs' and you will find some good webpages. I am sure that our Arab, Greek and Coptic brothers and sisters have their own cultural traditions as well.

Good luck!

In America, our family still observes the visitation of St. Nicholas, but we do decorate the tree shortly thereafter and adults do a limited gift exchange. When my wife and I were children both of our families never put up the tree until the civil New Year's Day of January 1st. 
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« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2010, 03:47:26 PM »

Quote
In days past, and still to this day in Europe and in some American towns, there would be a form of Christmas Caroling/Visitation called a Bethlehem play or the Jaslickaryj/Bethlehemers. The Bethlehemers would be costumed, carry a wooden Bethlehem Star (Zvizda) and a wooden replica of the parish Church on their journey
Podkarpatska is right.
I failed to mention the caroling. We did that too, by either going ourselves to carol neighbours, relatives etc, or receiving caroler all throughout the day on X-mass eve. The children started in the morning and the adults caroled late at night.
I remember once building one of those stars out of cardboard which we wrapped in steel foil and then glued, in the middle, something like an icon of the Nativity.
Carol-singing at church though, started as soon as they started singing the "katavasiae" of the Nativity at Matins.
however, caroling proper (colindat/corindat), seen as a fertility ritual, with quite a pagan   but very strict and specialized order, ritual and repertoire has disappeared  in many places over the last 4 decades, when many left their villages; what they call "caroling" now, in many places is more akin to singing of Christian Christmas songs than the old quite pagan/pre-Christian carols.
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« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2010, 04:37:12 PM »

In some parts of Poland, I was told, the Christmas tree would stay up til the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  How true that it I'm not sure.  But all the other customs were the same as in Ukraine, even some of the carols were basically the same.
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« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2010, 09:52:09 PM »

Growing up we always had a Christmas tree, but our parents only put it up on Christmas eve, without us, the kids, seeing it. They would also leave gifts for us under it. We thought all these were brought by the local variant of Santa.
Gifts between the adults were never exchanged where I grew up.
Besides that we got gifts on St. Nicholas' eve in our boots, polished and set outside, believing that the saint himself left them there. Besides the gifts we would also get a stick (which parents and grand parents used to beat us with throughout the year and which they jokingly called "St. Nicholas" sometimes) or corn husks, signs that we were disobedient the previous year.

 I remember being told some of this from a Romanian friend.  As she was telling me about 'St. Nicholas Day' eve and the leaving of shoes outside the door, she would have a far away look on her face as she recalled those wonderful times.  She also explained that Romanians are very fond of caroling. 

Quote
Besides the gifts we would also get a stick (which parents and grand parents used to beat us with throughout the year...)...
 
 I'm pretty sure that was the funniest thing I've heard/read all day, today.  Cheesy  I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but this reminded me of Festivus. 
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« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2010, 09:55:10 PM »



 I am sure that our Arab, Greek and Coptic brothers and sisters have their own cultural traditions as well.

 

 Thanks for the info and tip, podkarpatska.  I wonder if we have any Arabs, Greeks or Copts on this forum?  Hint, hint, nudge nudge, wink wink.  Smiley
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« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2010, 10:24:54 PM »

Do EOs do advent wreaths?
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« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2010, 10:34:03 PM »

Do EOs do advent wreaths?

I like those.   Smiley
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GabrieltheCelt
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« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2010, 10:50:06 PM »

From the Wiki article re: The Christmas Tree:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree
 "The tradition of the Christmas tree as it is today known is fairly young. It was established by Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Catholic Nativity scene. Luther established the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden."

 It's difficult for me to believe/accept that Eastern Orthodox Christians didn't have any pre -16th century Christian traditions.  C'mon folks, you're bringin' me down.  Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2010, 10:51:29 PM »

From the Wiki article re: The Christmas Tree:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree
 "The tradition of the Christmas tree as it is today known is fairly young. It was established by Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Catholic Nativity scene. Luther established the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden."

 
Ok, So nativity scene it is this year.
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« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2010, 11:57:52 PM »


As was mentioned, as a Ukrainian, we have a lenten meal after services on Christmas Eve.  It consists of 12 dishes (for the 12 apostles).  The first item to be eaten is kutya (boiled wheat with poppy seeds and honey).  The wheat symbolizes immortality and hope, while the poppy seeds and honey are symbols of happiness, success and peaceful rest.

The meal is finished by drinking ozvar (fruit compote), which symbolizes sweetness of life and bounty.

Additionally, there is always an empty chair left at the table, in honor of deceased family members.  It's as if they are with us at the table.

The house is still silent - no Christmas Carols, yet.  There's no TV, nor radio.  The joy comes tomorrow on the Nativity!

As kids our mother would stuff our stockings that hung on the mantle.  Christmas morning, my sister and I would jump out of bed and run for our stockings (which we knew were filled by our mother - but, she gave credit to St. Nick for years!)  The stockings would be filled with new gloves, some sparkly earrings, little toys, etc.  When we went to church, we would wear the new stuff we got in the stockings - the earrings, or ring, or pin, etc.  It was always fun to wear something new to church for Christmas.

Christmas day after Divine Liturgy is filled with fun!  People get in groups and go caroling.  Even here in the U.S. we do that.  Everyone jumps in their cars and off we go to the parishioners of our church, plus local nursing homes where some of our parishioners are, etc.  At each house we sing, we get fed, we chit chat and we move on to the next.  Traditionally, our caroling finishes up at our priest's house.  Unfortunately for him and his family, some carolers don't go home until very late at night. 

We do exchange gifts, in honor of the Magi's gifts to the Christ Child.  Usually this is done well into the afternoon of Christmas - after all the caroling, and eating.  :-)  Just some small trinket, new pj's, a book.  Nothing over the top. 

Mostly, it is just fun to kick back and read that new book you got, dressed in your new warm and fuzzy pj's, with the fire going, carols on the stereo, and an excuse that it is a major Holiday...and you simply cannot do a stitch of work! 
 
Smiley


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« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2010, 11:14:57 AM »


As was mentioned, as a Ukrainian, we have a lenten meal after services on Christmas Eve.  It consists of 12 dishes (for the 12 apostles).  The first item to be eaten is kutya (boiled wheat with poppy seeds and honey).  The wheat symbolizes immortality and hope, while the poppy seeds and honey are symbols of happiness, success and peaceful rest.

The meal is finished by drinking ozvar (fruit compote), which symbolizes sweetness of life and bounty.

Additionally, there is always an empty chair left at the table, in honor of deceased family members.  It's as if they are with us at the table.

The house is still silent - no Christmas Carols, yet.  There's no TV, nor radio.  The joy comes tomorrow on the Nativity!

As kids our mother would stuff our stockings that hung on the mantle.  Christmas morning, my sister and I would jump out of bed and run for our stockings (which we knew were filled by our mother - but, she gave credit to St. Nick for years!)  The stockings would be filled with new gloves, some sparkly earrings, little toys, etc.  When we went to church, we would wear the new stuff we got in the stockings - the earrings, or ring, or pin, etc.  It was always fun to wear something new to church for Christmas.

Christmas day after Divine Liturgy is filled with fun!  People get in groups and go caroling.  Even here in the U.S. we do that.  Everyone jumps in their cars and off we go to the parishioners of our church, plus local nursing homes where some of our parishioners are, etc.  At each house we sing, we get fed, we chit chat and we move on to the next.  Traditionally, our caroling finishes up at our priest's house.  Unfortunately for him and his family, some carolers don't go home until very late at night. 

We do exchange gifts, in honor of the Magi's gifts to the Christ Child.  Usually this is done well into the afternoon of Christmas - after all the caroling, and eating.  :-)  Just some small trinket, new pj's, a book.  Nothing over the top. 

Mostly, it is just fun to kick back and read that new book you got, dressed in your new warm and fuzzy pj's, with the fire going, carols on the stereo, and an excuse that it is a major Holiday...and you simply cannot do a stitch of work! 
 
Smiley




To those who follow these traditions, they are inseparable as part of our rejoicing over the Good News. They bind a family together and link it to the faithful who traveled this path in years past in a way that modern, commercial customs can never replicate. Yet, as Liza points out, a balanced life does not reject all of the trappings of the world in which we find ourselves.

I was taught that the empty chair represented both the deceased family members and was there in the event that Christ came knocking at the door in the person of a homeless or lonely person seeking shelter from the cold. It is a poignant reminder of both.

From "The Christmas Eve Holy Supper"

The candles on the table are lit to symbolize the appearance of Christ, the Light of the World, at His birth. The father or eldest so leads the family in kneeling prayer, like the adoration of Christ by the shepherds and wise men. The prayer expresses gratitude to God for His blessings during the past year. It includes petitions for health, happiness, long life and salvation, that the family may be united in love forever, and blessing of the food. Then the Troparion of Christmas is sung: "Rozdestvo Tvoje Christe Boze naš, vozsija mirovi svit razuma...." "Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge...."

The food may the be blessed with holy water. A toast "vincovanja" with sweet wine, brandy "palenka", or whiskey mixed with honey is offered, again by the father. It may be simple or quite elaborate, but is usually something like this: "Good Christians! I greet you on the Feast of Christ's Nativity and wish that the Lord grant you and your children good health and fortune to praise the eternal God for many blessed years!"; those present answer "Daj Boze!" - "Grant it, o God!"


http://www.carpatho-rusyn.org/crs/christma.htm

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« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2010, 11:18:32 AM »


Yes, I forgot to mention that about the empty chair.  You are absolutely correct!
 
It was also said to be a blessing if a stranger actually did come knocking at your door, and you were able to invite them in and feed them.

Smiley

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« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2010, 09:01:03 PM »

In some parts of Romania a particular form of caroling is called "chiraleisa" or even "ciuralexa", a bastardization of "kyrie eleison". I'm wondering, is there anything similar to other peoples in the Balkans or Eastern, Central or Western Europe?
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« Reply #16 on: December 09, 2010, 07:57:03 AM »

What about having a Yolka on the first Sunday in January? Complete with carols, festive food, with the youth having a surprise visit from St. Nicholas/Santa Clause. One year they put on a skit, of the Nativity story.
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« Reply #17 on: December 09, 2010, 11:39:43 AM »

From the Wiki article re: The Christmas Tree:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree
 "The tradition of the Christmas tree as it is today known is fairly young. It was established by Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Catholic Nativity scene. Luther established the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden."

 
Ok, So nativity scene it is this year.

 laugh
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« Reply #18 on: December 09, 2010, 03:51:13 PM »

At serbian Churches/Monasteries they set Branches on fire ,would it be called yule logs ..The Priest does the blessing ..then we  grab branches from the fire some even have dried leaves on them and there taken home....put in a prominent place......Carols never seem it in american they probably ,do it in the old country though...Family here,we never Embraced Christmas trees though ...

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« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2010, 02:31:03 PM »

I have kind of a mixture of Serbian and American customs. On Christmas Eve morning I attend Royal Hours then the Vesperal Liturgy. In the mid/late afternoon I usually have an abbreviated version of the "Apostles Supper". Then I attend Vespers at the Serbian parish and afterward the badnjak is blessed and burnt and pieces are given to us to take home. Immediately after that I go to my own parish for All Night Vigil (yes, I hear the beautiful Vespers chanted twice) immediately followed by Christmas Liturgy. After that there is a festive pitch-in meal in the parish hall, with caroling and gift giving, etc. I return home holily tired about four-five in the morning. I usually sleep till noon. Then I prepare a festive meal with the traditional Cesnica. I usually have friends and relatives drop by. The evening is spent by my fireplace with Christmas carols and chants on the stereo, the tree lit, and candles flickering.  I usually go to bed late in the night... tired but giving great thanks and glory to God! Христос се роди!!! Christ is born!!!

Regarding decor: I usually have a Nativity scene, but the creche with the baby Jesus is usually only placed right before I leave for Vespers on Christmas Eve. I usually start decorating and put up my Christmas tree on or around the feast of St Nicholas.
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