Armenians Celebrate Christmas and Anniversary of Armenia's Conversion to Christianity

January 6, 2001

Source: Daily News (New York)

On January 6, 2001, the New York Daily News reported on American Armenians' celebration of Christmas this year. "Armenians celebrate it Jan. 6 because they use both lunar and solar calculations to set dates for religious holidays....Millions of other Christians - almost all members of Eastern Orthodox churches established after a split with Rome in the 11th century - celebrate Christmas tomorrow, but "for most Christians, Jan. 6 is...the Epiphany, which, depending on church doctrine or tradition, celebrates the three kings' visit to see Jesus and give him gifts, or Christ's baptism." Epiphany, though, is not an Armenian holiday: "only Armenians combine holidays celebrating the birth of Jesus and his baptism." Part of the Armenian Christmas service consists of "a ceremony called the 'Blessing of the Water,' commemorating the baptism of Christ. At the end of the service, worshippers receive tiny samples of the water" that have just been blessed. This year "the service...marks the beginning of the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's officially becoming Christian, the first country in the world to do so...Legend has it that St. Gregory the Illuminator, patron saint of Armenia, was imprisoned for 13 years for preaching Christianity. Upon his release [in A.D. 301], he converted King Tiridates III." As part of the year-long celebration of the anniversary, a "symbolic 'Light of St. Gregory'" will be distributed. "The fire was in a lantern lit - during elaborate ceremonies in Etchmiadzin [the administrative center of the church] - by candles that burn at the Khor Virab prison where Gregory allegedly was held. Every diocesan bishop in the world took fire home, and...they will pass it along to young people in their cities and towns."