Isabel Bayrakdarian, Soprano: We Celebrate
For the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations, the Christmas holiday culminates with celebrations Dec. 24 and 25. But Armenian churches wait until Jan. 6.
The observance of what has come to be called Armenian Christmas underscores an almost 1,700-year divide between the Armenian church and most other churches over when to mark the birth of Jesus. That stance reflects the reality of a distinct ethnic church ministering in a religiously and culturally diverse region and nation. By contrast, in Armenia, there was little alternative to the Armenian church and its Jan. 6 observance of Christ’s birth.
In fact, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born. Nor is his birth believed to have been celebrated in the earliest days of the church. According to the Armenian church, all Christian churches used to celebrate Christ’s birth on Jan. 6. But in the year 325, the Roman emperor Constantine decreed that it would be celebrated in his empire on Dec. 25.
There are various reasons given for Constantine’s edict. But one oft-repeated account suggests that it was a move by the church in Rome to usurp a popular pagan holiday celebrating “the invincible or unconquered sun god” with a Christian observance of the birth of the son of God.
By the end of the 4th century, the Greek-speaking Christian world had also adopted Dec. 25, including what is today’s Greek Orthodox Church. But the Armenian church held its ground. Jan. 6 endured as a date to mark both the birth and baptism of Jesus. For some orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas is celebrated Jan. 7.
The Western church adopted Jan. 6 as the Epiphany, the time when Jesus was adored by the wise men. In the Armenian church, however, several themes are woven into the Jan. 6 observance, including Jesus’ birth, baptism and the “manifestation,” or epiphany, of Jesus as the son of God.
(Excerpt from http://www.armeniapedia.org)