Armenian Christmas

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Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 6th around the world, except in Jerusalem - where the church continues to use the old calendar. The Armenian Church places much more emphasis on the Epiphany, the visitation by the Magi, than on Christmas.

Fresno Bee, CA Jan 7 2006

12 Days of Christmas An Armenian tradition that places the holiday on Jan. 6 expands celebrations.

By Diana Marcum / The Fresno Bee

In downtown Fresno on Friday, as office workers hurried by talking on cell phones and noon traffic backed up, parishioners left the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, chatting and calling out "Merry Christmas" to one another.

It was a sign of ancient Christian history and a cultural slice of a city with a large, active Armenian community.

In a country where Christmas generally is celebrated on Dec. 25, some Christian churches keep an older tradition. By the end of the third century in Rome, Christmas was held on Dec. 25, to coincide with a pagan holiday. But the Armenian church remained outside of the Roman Empire's influence and to this day maintains its ancient tradition of celebrating both the birth and baptism of Christ on Jan. 6.

Local Armenian Americans say that this is one case where differing cultural traditions don't so much collide as enrich and expand.

"It becomes one big Christmas chunk. It really is 12 days of Christmas," said Marvin Caprelian, 62, a farmer who donned suit and tie and attended church on Friday.

Most American Armenians celebrate both days, with each Christmas taking on its own flavor.

Jim Malkasian, 45, is third-generation Armenian on his father's side and Italian on his mother's side.

"They're both ethnic traditions, so it's about the food," he said.

There's Armenian rolled grape leaves and his mother's Italian chicken soup with pasta. On Dec. 25, he was at a boisterous family get-together with dozens of people at his cousin's home and presents for all the kids.

On Friday, Malkasian, a sub-deacon at Holy Trinity, was taking part in a solemn, once-a-year service where people drank blessed water, and a centuries-old liturgy slowly unfolded.

"They're both Christmas, but today is more subdued, more spiritual. The whole service is meditative. You have to use your mind and your imagination to understand what is happening," he said.

A large red bow adorns a candelabra at Holy Trinity, in honor of the Armenian Christmas. John Walker / The Fresno Bee "The presents and a lot of the extraneous stuff are out of the way, and now we're celebrating God being revealed to us."

To odar - non-Armenians - walking by the downtown church on Friday, the many wishes of "Merry Christmas" may have seemed late.

But Varoujan Der Simonian of Fresno said it was the other way around.

"We're 12 months ahead of everyone else," he said. "This is the first Christmas of the New Year."

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Armenians celebrate faith, recognize Christmas today By Mary Maraghy Times-Union staff writer

Saturday, January 6, 2001

For most Christians in the Western world, today marks Epiphany, the day the Christ child was visited by three wise men.

But for families from Armenia, a republic in Southwest Asia, today is Christmas Day.

The newly formed Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church of Jacksonville has scheduled its first official Christmas service for tomorrow, featuring a sacred ceremony called the "blessing of the water."

The service would have been today, but the church doesn't have its own building yet and another church wasn't available.

"We are so excited," said Karina Nalbandyan-Pshenichnaya, 45, a member of the church council who lives in Mandarin.

Epiphany represents the feast of the Manifestation of Christ. Its theme is the baptism of Jesus in the Eastern church, but in the West it commemorates the visit of the magi, who tradition says brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

The Armenian church, however, believes that Jesus was born and baptized on Jan. 6, said Thomas Talley, a retired professor emeritus of liturgy from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York.

When most Christians began in the fifth century to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, Armenians stayed with Jan. 6.

And for Armenians in Jacksonville, tomorrow's service is of particular significance, said Carl Bazarian, 54, who lives on Amelia Island.

Bazarian, Nalbandyan-Pshenichnaya and several other ambitious Armenians hope to unite the estimated 250 Armenian families who have moved to Jacksonville since 1988 to escape religious persecution by Turks in Azerbaijan, a neighboring republic.

"It's a very, very special Christmas," said Bazarian, an international investment banker. "It will unite the Armenian community."

The new church is led by Father Emmanuel Vartanian, who was assigned to Jacksonville by the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church of North America in New York City.

During tomorrow's service, worshipers will each drink holy water, called muron, that is believed to contain some of the same oil used to baptize Jesus.

In ancient times, Vartanian said, it is believed that Armenian partriarchs somehow obtained some of the oil used to baptize Jesus.

Since then, patriarchs in Armenia have continually combined a portion of that oil with oils drawn from more than 40 plants.

The oil is then bottled and distributed from Armenia to Armenian churches around the world.

"We believe this water, this oil, will change your life, take your illnesses away and make you smile," said Elmira Grigoryan, 42, of Mandarin.

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