Christmas Eve in Eastern Christianity Date in the current year: January 6, 2024

Christmas Eve in Eastern Christianity For many Christians, the celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve observed on December 24. However, most Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches still use the old Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, so their Christmas Eve falls on January 6 in the Gregorian calendar.

In Eastern churches, Christmas Eve is the final day of the 40-day Nativity Fast, which loosely corresponds to Advent in Western Christian churches (although Advent hasn’t been associated with fasting for many years). Some devout Christians abstain from food the entire day until the first star appears in the evening sky, in commemoration of the Star of Bethlehem that inspired the Magi to travel to Jerusalem to pay homage to baby Jesus.

The liturgical celebration of the Eve of the Nativity includes the Royal Hours (a particularly solemn celebration of the Little Hours), the Divine Liturgy, and the All-Night Vigil. In some Orthodox churches, parishioners return home after the Divine Liturgy to have a festive meal with their families. After the meal, they return to the church for the All-Night Vigil.

Since Christmas Eve is the concluding day of the fast, all dishes served during Christmas Eve meal are Lenten, meaning that no meat or dairy products are consumed. Various types of grain, mushrooms and fish are the main offerings. The second meal is served on Christmas Day, when meat, dairy products, and alcohol are allowed on the table. In many Central European and Northern European cultures, Christmas Eve supper usually has 12 dishes, representing the Twelve Apostles.

Traditional Christmas Eve supper dishes in many Slavic countries include uzvar (vzvar) and kutia. Uzvar is a non-alcoholic sweet drink obtained by cooking various dried fruits in a large volume of water. It is usually sweetened with honey or sugar. Kutia, also known as kolivo, is a cereal dish consisting of boiled grains (usually wheat berry) mixed with honey, poppy seeds, and sometimes also raisins, dried fruits, nuts, and spices.

In Poland, the Christmas Eve supper usually begins with eating mushroom or fish soup, or meatless borsch. In Lithuania, herring served with mushrooms or carrots is a traditional Christmas Eve dish. Boiled or deep fried dumplings (pierogi) with various fillings are popular in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. Traditional fillings include sauerkraut, mushrooms, and crushed poppy seeds.

In Russia, Ukraine, and some other countries, Christmas Eve marks the beginning of the festive season called Svyatki that lasts until Epiphany (January 19 in the Gregorian calendar, corresponding to January 6 in the Julian calendar). Although the word “svyatky” is derived from the Russian word for “holy”, the period is associated with traditions that stem from old pagan rituals.

Svyatky customs include divination, games with erotic undertones involving unmarried girls and guys, mummer parades, caroling, and more. Carol singers traditionally start going from house to house on Christmas Eve, visiting their relatives, neighbors, and other people in the village. When they finish singing, hosts are expected to reward them with fruit, money, and other gifts. In many regions, carolers wear costumes and masks representing various characters, and carry a star on a stick as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

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