The Real Meaning of New Year and Christmas

“Armedia” IAA presents an exclusive interview with Father Ghevond Mayilyan, a lecturer in Gevorkian Theological Seminary (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin), on the real meaning of New Year and Christmas.

-Respectable Father Mailyan, what is the New Year’s real meaning, about which many of us forget because of the pre-holiday fuss?

-New Year, as a holiday of happiness and joy is only characteristic to recent times. In early times, New Year was not marked in January. For example, December means the tenth and not the twelfth.  Namely, according to New Style Calendar or the Roman Calendar, the beginning of the year was celebrated on the 1st of March.  According to Liturgical Calendar, the New Year period is considered to be a period of fasting, that is, they are not considered to be days of celebration, joy and parties, quite the opposite.

New Year as the beginning of the year has got its meaning and significance due to the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, which only we, Armenians, celebrate on January 6. In various countries and at different times, in order to detract the meaning of Christ’s Birth, they tried to replace it with New Year celebrations. Even a holiday is presented, which is expected by animals and not the humans (for example, cartoon characters). Thus, we, Christian Armenians, mark the New Year meaning, as a preparation period, when we consider our deeds which we have done over the past year, try to improve ourselves in the coming year and become a new person, accept the salvation blessings, and enjoy heavenly peace.

Christ is revealed in us, in order to be born in our hearts and lead us to a new life, where there is no place for envy, hatred, hostility. But there is only love, peace, forgiveness and patience … This great meaning has a cosmic significance; in the description of the birth episode, Luke the Evangelist writes that the angels in the heavens sang praises to God, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Here three fields are presented; heaven, earth and man. If there is a favor in man, that is Christ, then there will be peace on earth, and then in heaven – Glory.  In this sense, we call this New Year’s period as days of Nativity of Jesus, and try to analyze the past with self-examination and think about the future of which we are unaware; we only know that Christ will not leave us, and our Captain will be in the ocean of the new year.

- Some people, unfortunately, do not know why Christian sister churches celebrate Christmas on different days. Will You present our readers the roots of that tradition?

-It is often asked why the Armenian Church does not celebrate Christmas on December 25 like other churches. It’s no secret that the month and date of Jesus’ Birth are unknown, nor is it recorded in the Gospel. However, it should be noted that until the 4th century all Christian churches celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6. According to Roman Catholic sources, Christmas day was moved from January 6 to December 25  in order to ignore the pagan worship, as on the same December 25 pagans celebrated the birthday of the “god’’ of sun.

The Roman Catholic Church changed it with Christ’s birthday, in order to replace the dead, material god with the Living Sun, that is Jesus Christ; as Shnorhali says “Ascending sun, awakening light, let dawn light in me.” Rome’s initiative to celebrate the Birth of Christ on December 25 was first spread to the West and then moved to the East. In the 5th and 6th centuries almost all the churches celebrated the Birth of Christ on December 25 (according to the Old Style Calendar – on January 7, as nowadays the Orthodox celebrates and those who are guided by the Old Style Calendar). But this change was meaningless for us since there were no such pagan traditions in Armenia then. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of our fathers, we until now continue to celebrate Jesus’ Birth on January 6. It should be noted that the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, using the Old Julian Calendar, continues to celebrate Christ’s Birth on January 6, according to the Old Style Calendar, which corresponds the New Style Calendar’s January 19.

-What is the real meaning of Christmas and how should we prepare for the holiday?

- Christ left the heavens and descended into the earth for us, bringing salvation and life. Like the shepherds, we must spread that good news, the gospel, in the world (first of all in the Armenian world). Years ago we had a tradition on January 6, when early in the morning, when everyone was asleep, we went to the acquaintances’ houses and sang Khorenatsi’s sharakan in front of their entrances, thus waking everyone up; truly, awakening them spiritually in order to help them to start the year in the name of Christ and according to his commandments.

- What is your Christmas message to our readers?

- The first and the only message of Christmas is – “Christ is Born and Revealed! Blessed is the Revelation of Christ.”

During Christmas days we always welcome each other with these words. And that means Christ was born to give us salvation, to give us a new life, to lead us towards the path of love.

And he is revealed; when Christ turned 30, he appeared to the people and was baptized in Jordan, blessing the water and showing the way to be the part of that blessing. That is the reason why our Church celebrates Candlelight Divine Liturgy (Chragaluyts) on Christmas Eve (on January 5) and the the Water Blessing service- the baptism of Christ- on January 6.

And our people take that blessed water home and keep it all year round (thus, having the presence of Christ in our homes), using it little by little. After it comes the Order of Home Blessing, when the clergyman visits people and gives the gospel of  Birth and blesses their houses (the same thing is also done twice during the year – on the eve of the Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany and on the eve of the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ).

Christ is Born and Revealed! Blessed is the Revelation of Christ!