Armenia or what is officially known as the Republic of Armenia is a landlocked country that is located in west Asia and with geopolitical proximity to Europe. It is bordered by Turkey to the west, Iran to the south, Georgia to the north, and Azerbaijan to the east. The largest city and the capital is Yerevan. Yes, Christmas is celebrated in Armenia as well – but let’s delve more into their history and how the tradition came to be.
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A Brief History of the Christmas Tradition in Armenia
The history of Armenia dates back over three thousand years before Christ. There is proof that Armenians existed during the Stone Age period and during the second century it was ruled by Pompey. It was about 301 A.D. when the Armenian apostolic church introduced Christianity to Armenia.
Christianity has been largely adopted in Armenia and during your travel to the country you will realize that the country is largely Christian. This church was independent of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. In Europe, people celebrated a Roman holiday called the Solis Invicti and it was during the winter solstice. So for the two days, not to clash, they chose the 25th of December to celebrate Christmas and the 6th of January as the day to celebrate the Feast of Epiphany.
However, in Armenia, there was no need to observe Solis Invicti, and hence they did not require to shift the date. Therefore, Armenians celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January.
The Armenians are very unique people and during your visit, you are going to see their culture and diversity. You will find that some of them observe a fast week before Christmas Day. The traditions of Christmas are similar to that of 25th December as it is celebrated all over the world.
Some of the common celebrations include:
- making traditional Armenian recipes
- family dinners
- playing games
- exchanging gifts among others
Every group of Armenian people has a different way of celebrating Christmas. During your trip to Armenia, you will see them maintaining their customs and traditions. Depending on the region, you are far more likely to see a variation of the Christmas traditions although most of the common Western traditions are observed as well.
P.S. If you are interested in the Christmas traditions of other European countries, check out these:
Without further ado, let’s delve deeper into the Christmas traditions and customs of Armenia!
Holiday season in Armenia
The holiday season in Armenia is unique and different from those of other countries across the globe. Since Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of January then it is critical to say “Happy New Year and Merry Christmas” in the country, unlike the common way of saying it.
When it comes to the old Julian calendar especially used in Jerusalem the old calendar is 13 days off the astronomical solar year. This calendar deviated century by century and it is for this reason that you will find some Orthodox Christians celebrating Christmas on January 7th. However, following the Armenian liturgical calendar the only day that they can celebrate Christmas is on January 6th.
Generally, in Middle Eastern communities and Armenia, New Year’s Eve is a day of eating, drinking, and celebrating. It is also a period when gifts are exchanged. During this period the gaghant baba or Santa Claus makes way as well as the appearance of Christmas trees is more common in different parts of the country.
The New Year’s Eve celebration in Armenia is similar to that of the Western nations and during the period you are going to have the time of your life as you get to explore some of the unique features that this country has to offer.
New Year traditions in Armenia
The New Year traditions in Armenia are very unique because the themes in the region usually focus on the medieval New Year and pagan holiday traditions. The country began adopting the Roman calendar and it was during this period that the Armenians began celebrating the New Year on January 1st, just like their counterparts in Greece and Russia.
The day is popularly called gaghant and it means the first day of the month. This word is popularly used across Armenia as it is even included in some of the folk songs that are sung across the country. During your travel to the country, you are going to understand the common traditions that are often observed across the country during New Year’s Eve as well as the week leading their Christmas celebrations.
According to ancient Armenian traditions, the celebrations of Christmas usually occurred on the day before the New Year. During this period, it was a time for celebrations as well as giving gifts. It is one of the places where you are going to love the culture, diversity as well as traditions that are more prevalent in this location.
In areas where it is prosperous and western culture is prominent you are going to find that the Christmas celebrations are westernized.
Christmas customs in Armenia
In most parts of Armenia, young boys will move from house to house across the flat roofs of Anatolian-style villages and hang bags down their chimneys while singing songs. This is a perfect time for giving them nuts, fruits, sweets, and monetary gifts.
In some regions around the country, the young boys would hang apples on the sides of the house and the owner would in turn press coins into the apple. These coins were a gift to the boys.
In some villages across Armenia, they lowered a jug of wine as a gift to the lady of the house. In other locations, the jugs were filled with wine as a gift back to the men.
The customs in different locations of Armenia vary considerably and, in some areas, the father of the house would be tied with a rope or belt around the waist and the children would try to raise him to the ceiling. This will go on until the father gives up by opening gifts that he brought for the children in the new year and Christmas holidays.
Christmas in Rural Armenia
The villagers in Armenia usually took Christmas to a whole new level as they would make merry and feast on New Year’s Eve. However, there are unique traditions that must be followed when celebrating the season.
They were required to fast for seven days before Christmas and since the Christmas day in this region is on the 6th of January then they are likely to fast as from New Year’s Eve. It is often considered as a day of Lent and there are areas where you will find people fasting or on a vegan diet.
However, this is not limited to all people because there are places where you will find crafty Armenians filling their tables with complex vegan delicacies and they are often topped up with anoushabour which is a unique soup made up of barley or wheat porridge that has nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and pomegranate seeds. It is a classic Armenian dish that you are going to find prevalent in the region around different parts of the state.
The rural Armenian village of Anjar in Lebanon is one of the most renowned places on the planet because the communities are settled by refugees from Musa Daggh who settled in the region. According to the locals in this area, gaghant baba usually arrives on New Year’s Eve. In some cases, he does not come with presents because they have received presents from their parents.
However, he will ask the children if they have been good to their parents throughout the year. After this, the children will sing or recite a poem for him.
The most common treats for Christmas and new year are the gatov kekhke and boruma. During this time, you are likely to find different people enjoying this delicacy in different parts of the state. Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the country usually involve the slaughtering of a pig and then the cooking of local delicacies that are enjoyed by people in the region.
Food and drinks for Christmas in Armenia
New Year’s Eve in the villages will involve the slaughtering of the pig and cooking of the local delicacies. The people in the region enjoyed oghi as well as they set fireworks outside. Oghi is a local drink and during your visit to the region, you are likely to enjoy it because is often prepared for special occasions.
You will find people drinking across the state, especially after their dinners. Just before the new year arrives, people will clean their houses, change their beds, and even clean all their clothes. This is a fundamental aspect because it allows people to embrace a new beginning. In the process, the people will in turn get over or make up for any disagreement that happened in the previous year. This is fundamental because it helps people to begin their new year on a clean slate.
The New Year’s dinner usually consists of a couple of chickens, turkeys, and geese. The homemade oghi is far more common and you can find Ararat cognac as well. The families will then sing songs of celebrating Christmas and mark the new year. In some of the locations, you will find sweets or dried fruits on the table, usually in the western part of the country.
There could be seven foods consumed during this period and they often consume vegan dishes in the region.
One of the most important dishes during Christmas and the New Year period in the country is the glor gata bread. It is usually baked in the tonir which is a sunken pit that is mostly found in different rural areas of the country. This oven is round and it symbolizes the completion of the year and it is more commonly found in eastern Armenia.
In different parts of the country, there would be recitals by boys and girls around during the Christmas period and on Christmas Eve.
How Christmas has changed for different Armenian communities around the world?
Perhaps one of the most fundamental things that we should put into consideration is that Christmas has changed over the years. This has happened as well in Armenia and the Armenian communities across the world. Most Armenian families living in the United States have embraced the Armenian Christmas customs and celebrations albeit with a little Westernization of these cultures and traditions.
You will find that these communities usually cook traditional Armenian dishes and incorporate other American or Western dishes such as ham, rib roast, and turkey. The Christmas season is also a period when people would congregate, and bring each other gifts.
Since the celebrations are in the New Year in many parts of Armenia, many communities that have moved to the west have also embraced this culture and you will find them celebrating the Christmas festivities in the New Year.
They will often set up big tables with traditional Armenian foods such as oven-baked pork, cabbages, beans, grape leaf, dolma, gata, salads, sweets, and champagne.
During this period the communities would congregate before they can eat the food while sharing memories and stories from the past. In Armenia, you would often find that they bake bread and insert a coin, however, in the western states you will see that the communities often bake kuftas.
Kufta is a type of bread that is an alternative to the gata and it is often baked with a chickpea inserted instead of a coin because of sanitary reasons. Some of the celebrations would extend through the period until January 14th. During this period, you are going to learn and understand the Armenian traditions.
Depending on the region of Armenia that you are going to visit, the Christmas traditions may vary slightly. However, the most common script and concept of Christmas customs and traditions are still maintained from the ancient past.
Some people will clean their houses, put on special doilies, and fast for two days before Christmas. This period allows them to prepare spiritually and mentally then on the 5th which is Christmas Eve they would pray and light candles before the Christmas celebrations can begin.