An Armenian Christmas

 

The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6.

Advent is a Quinquagesima known as Hisnag, or Hisnak, from “fifty”; this period begins with the first of three periods of fasting for one whole week, as preparation for the Holy Birth – Sourp Dznount. In earlier times, Advent was a time when fasting was practiced throughout its duration.

After “The Fast of the Beginning of Hisnak” comes the one following the third Sunday of Hisnak, “the Fast of St. James Bishop of Nisibis”. The commemoration of the Saint takes place on the Saturday following. The third and final fast precedes “the feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ our God”. Besides, during the remaining weeks of Hisnak when there is no fasting, Wednesdays and Fridays are also regularly observed as fasting days.

Even if it falls within the week of the fasting, The Feast of the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple is celebrated on November 21st, since it is not a moveable feast. When this happens, the feast is celebrated liturgically, yet fasting is nonetheless observed. This also holds true for the Feast of the Conception of the Holy Virgin by St. Anna (December 9).

Armenian housewives traditionally prepare their homes for “The Feast” by cleaning it thoroughly.

During Hisnak some of the important and major saints of the Christian Church are venerated; St. Gregory; St. Basil; the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew; St. Clemens; St. Ignatius; St. Polycarpus; St. Nicholas; St. James of Nisibis; King David (as a prophet); Saints Peter and Paul, and others.

On the eve of Christmas, the rite of Divine Liturgy is celebrated through the Eucharist of the lighting of the lamps – Jrakaloutz Badarak – in honour of the Theophany; Jesus as the Son of God.

After the readings comes ceremony of the blessing of water, to evoke Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan. During this ceremony, the Cross is submerged in the water and three drops of Soorp Muron (Chrism) poured into it, to signify the Holy Trinity. This anointing unction, a combination of first pressing olive oil and forty-eight specific aromas and flowers, is symbolic of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.

A lay person is selected for the honour of being the “Godfather of the Cross”, holding it upright while the congregation approaches. At the end of the service, people take home with them some holy water, and a candle lit from the sanctuary lamp, so that the “light of Christmas” burns inside their house too.

Every day of the week following is also considered to be Christmas, and people visit one another’s homes. Traditional greetings are Tzez yev mes medz avedis (To you and us the good news); Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav (Christ is born and revealed among us); and Orhnial eh haydnootiunun Krisdosee (Blessed is the revelation of Christ)

 

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