By Alex Dobuzinskis, Staff Writer
While most Christians only celebrate Christmas once a year, it actually comes twice for Armenian-Americans: once in December and once today.
Armenian-American families celebrate on Dec. 25, often getting together with relatives and friends for dinner.
But the Armenian church recognizes Jan. 6 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ because it never adopted the Dec. 25 Christmas that churches in the West began marking in the fourth century. So today, many Armenian churches in Southern California will be packed with congregants.
Armenian-Americans also spread Christmas celebrations into New Year’s Eve, meeting to exchange greetings and presents.
“The unique thing about this whole thing is around the new year all the commotion, the gift exchange, the Santa Claus is out of the way and Christmas is not overshadowed by anything else,” said the Rev. Vazken Atmajian of St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale.
“It’s Christ’s birthday, and we spend the whole day with prayers and church services,” he said.
The Armenian church is part of the Christian Orthodox world, and some other Eastern Orthodox churches also celebrate Christmas on a different day, Jan. 7. In the case of the Armenian church, the difference over dates is a result of Armenia not having been part of the Roman Empire when the pope in Rome ordered Christmas to be celebrated Dec. 25.
Armenians also maintain their nation never recognized pagan celebrations associated with the winter solstice on Dec. 25, so it would not have made sense to tie Christmas to winter solstice, as church leaders in the West did.
Accountant Rouben Gourjian, 64, of Glendale was expecting to have more than 25 guests at his home Thursday night to celebrate Armenian Christmas, also known as theophany. Singing and a meal with fish, a symbol of Christianity, are part of the festivities.
Gourjian, an ethnic Armenian, left Iran in 1975 and brought his two sons. His boys were happy to celebrate Dec. 25 and Jan. 6.
“There was no question, this is Armenian and this is Western and we accept it just like that,” Gourjian said. “Just like the dual identity that we carry inside. We are Armenian but we are also American.”