Armenian Christmas in Bethlehem

Posted on Jan 25, 2020

A matter of calendar, but not only that: the Christmas celebrations set by the Armenian-Orthodox community of the Holy Land on the night between the 18th and 19th January recall ancient traditions, preserved from the 4th century to the present day.

Long before the birth of Jesus was moved to December 25 in the West, under the Roman Empire, attention in the East had always been focused on January 6. The Feast of Theophany, for the Armenians, or the “Manifestation” of God to mankind, which unites the Birth and Baptism of Jesus, celebrated, however, following the ancient Julian calendar, moved forward by 13 days.

Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem
“According to the New Testament, when Jesus turned 30, he was baptized. This means that He was baptized on the same day He was born. The Church until the 4th and 5th centuries celebrated these two events together: and this is also the reason why we bless the water tonight”.

A small part of the Basilica of Bethlehem is reserved for the Armenians, right next to the Grotto of the Nativity: two small altars, the main one dedicated to the visit of the three wise men – the Magi -, the other one which recalls the circumcision…and a third piece of furniture, set up for this occasion, with the image of the Baptism. Even people from Armenia and Armenians of the Diaspora from all over the world participate in long celebrations, rich in colours and songs.

Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem
“We will have Vespers and the divine liturgy from 2 to 6 p.m. A break and then we will meet here at 10 p.m. when we will begin morning prayer. At midnight we will go down to the Grotto, where there will be a special prayer: then from 1 to 6, more or less, we will have two divine liturgies and the water will be blessed”.

Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem
“The message we can relaunch on this holiday is one of peace and love. May peace and love prevail throughout the world, and among men, and may the coming year be a better one.”

From the large roof on which the Armenian flag is raised and the bells are ringing, you can enjoy a unique view of Bethlehem Square: underneath there is the Armenian convent, a cloister, some rooms, and the little church of the community.

Armenian of Bethlehem
“I was baptized here, while here I got married. My children were baptized here too, as were my father and grandfather. The Nassar family has lived in Bethlehem for a thousand years. We never feel like strangers in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. We are a small community, but at Christmas, we become bigger, because many Armenians come from all over the world. In Armenian we say: “Shaddar Neru”, which means “Merry Christmas”.