TWO CHRISTMAS DAYS
By FR. JOSE THOMAS POOVATHUMKAL
St Frumentius Theological College, Post Box 1444, Makele, Tigray, Ethiopia.
While some Orthodox Christians (Ethiopian Church, et al) still celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord according to the Julian calendar, which places December 25 thirteen days later -- on January 7 -- most Orthodox Christians (Malankara Orthodox Church, etc.) in the world observe the feast according to the Revised Julian calendar, which places the Nativity on December 25.
Why are there two days for celebrating Christmas?
Christmas is always celebrated on December 25! But which day is December 25?
Some Orthodox celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the older calendar (Julian calendar), some celebrate on December 25 of the revised calendar (Gregorian calendar). December 25 in the Julian calendar is January 7 of the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar is named after Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory.
The Julian calendar has a leap year every 4 years. The current Gregorian Calendar does not have a leap year in those years ending in “00” where the hundreds-part is not divisible by 5 -- and thus 1900, 2100, 2200 ... etc., are not leap years. In both calendars the year 2000 is a leap year.
The Gregorian calendar (sometimes called the Revised Julian Calendar) was adopted as the secular calendar in 1585 in parts of Western Europe, in 1753 in England and North America, and 1923 in Russia.
For example, George Washington (1789-1797) was born on February 11 old calendar (i.e., before 1753). That is why his birthday is celebrated on February 22 (“Presidents Day”, new calendar). In his times, the difference between the old and new calendars was 11 days.
The two days when Christmas is celebrated drift apart an extra three days every 400 years. December 25 in the Julian calendar becomes January 8 in the Gregorian calendar starting in the year 2100.
ADDITIONAL NOTE (by Fr John Brian): Our sister Armenian Church celebrates a combined Holy Day of Christmas and Epiphany on January 6. In addition, the Coptic calendar (and thereby the Ethiopian/Eritrean calendars) has an interval exception when Christmas is celebrated on the “Gregorian” January 6th, still the equivalent of December 25.