Eastern Orthodox celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7
January 6, 2006

But for the Rev. Benedict Tallant of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Brookside, Ala., the first week of January is a time for making last-minute Christmas preparations.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which still follows the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 - 13 days after the traditional Western Christmas.

"It makes it a little difficult for some of the kids and the people," Tallant said. "They've just been off (school and work) for the American Christmas and they have to take off again."

Tallant said his church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church south of the Mason Dixon line, and one of only two in Alabama. The tiny church was founded in the late 19th century by the Slovakian immigrants.

Most of the immigrants are gone now, but there are many members of the congregation who still adhere to the church's traditions.

One of those traditions is a six-week fast that begins the Monday after Thanksgiving and lasts until Christmas day, church member Elizabeth Beck said. During the fast members don't consume any meat or dairy products.

On the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve, church members have a large, meatless feast that can include seafood, prunes, garlic, honey, rolls, a bread pudding called lochsia, and flat bread called pagach.

"On Christmas Eve there would be no electric lights in the house," Beck said. "As the children would look toward the sky for the first star of the night, that would be a sign that we could start our Christmas Eve meal. That symbolizes the star over Bethlehem."

Beck said another tradition is to put straw under the dinner table to represent the manger. "In the straw you would hide coins and candy for the children to find," she said.

Because Russian Christmas is celebrated almost two weeks after traditional Christmas, Tallant said, it tends to be less commercial. "Our Christmas is strictly just a religious service," he said.

Tallant said he believes Santa Claus is a perversion of St. Nicholas and thinks it's terrible how commercialized Christmas has become. But he realizes that many families enjoy the custom of exchanging gifts.

"We celebrate both Christmases," Beck said. "My family looks forward to celebrating Christmas on Jan. 7 because it's a religious experience, and all the commercialism of Dec. 25 is passed."
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