Christmas: Bethlehem, Iraq, Iran, Russia

In 13 History on 2013/11/04 at 12:00 AM

BETHLEHEM The homes of the faithful Christians living in the city of Our Lord’s birth, are marked by a cross and each home has its own manger scene. A lone star on a pole is placed in the center of the square. The Church of the Nativity is festooned with flags and decorations every Christmas, and when the Arab Catholics living in the Jewish state of Israel, go to the church they crowd the church’s doorways and stand on the roof to watch the annual parade. Mounted on Arabian steeds, police lead the parade. In the middle of the procession is a lone rider on a black horse carrying a cross. He is followed by priests and government officials. Down the winding staircase goes the clergy to the grotto where a silver star marks the place where Jesus was born. There they place an ancient effigy of the Christ Child.

IRAQ Christian families gather in their courtyards on Christmas Eve holding lighted candles. A child reads the Nativity narrative from an Arabic Bible. Then a bonfire is lit. A bonfire is also lit inside the church as the men chant an ancient hymn. A procession enters with the bishop carrying a statue of the Holy Infant on a crimson cushion. After a very long liturgy, the bishop confers the “Touch of Peace” on a person who does the same to his neighbor until everyone in the congregation has received this solemn blessing.

IRAN Christmas is known as the Little Feast and it is preceded by fasting from the beginning of the month. These four weeks are reserved for prayer, meditation, church attendance. The fast, which included abstinence from meat, eggs, milk and cheese ends in the early morning and starting at dawn, the faithful begin to arrive in church.

RUSSIA The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas following the Julian calendar which places it almost two weeks after that of the Gregorian calendar. For nine centuries it was a solemn and joyous feast until it was prohibited by the atheistic Communist regime in 1917. After 75 years of deprivation, the Russian people were permitted to return to their now incense-filled candle-lit cathedrals surrounded by colorful icons of venerated saints. Now again, on Christmas eve families gather for a special blessed meal. The long fast ends with the appearance of the first evening star. The meal is festive and is referred to as “The Holy Supper” in honor of the coming of the Redeemer. An image of the Christ child in swaddling cloths is placed at the center of the table along with a white candle signifying Christ, the Light of the World, along with a large loaf of bread symbolizing Christ as the Bread of Life. Beginning with the Our Father led by the pater familias who greets them with the words “Christ is Born!” to which all answer “Glorify Him.” Then the mother, with her finger dipped in honey makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each person saying “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The meal is then eaten followed by the opening of presents. At dawn the family goes to Church and the rest of the day is spent in visiting all neighbors.

Comment: Christmas is not over on the 25th; it is celebrated for 8 days (an octave).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: