25th December – Christmas Day
On 25th December each year, over 2 billion people (over a third of the world’s population) will celebrate the birth of Christ. The bible didn’t give any specific details on the exact date or year that Christ was born and many have speculated when the actual date was. By the fourth century, the early church had plumped for 6 January but as the religion gained popularity across the Roman Empire, they realised that Christmas Day was competing with the existing Roman festival of ‘Sol Invictus‘. As is the case with many of our holidays, the Christians decided the best course of action was to switch Christmas day to 25th December, so that both holidays would be celebrated on the same day and eventually Christmas Day would outlast Sol Invictus. To keep 6th January as a holy date, Epiphany was then celebrated on 6th January.
In 2017, one more country was added to the long list that celebrate Christmas Day on 25th December when Ukraine decided to make Catholic Christmas a national holiday in addition to Orthdox Christmas on 6th January.
6th January – Armenian Christmas
Observed in: Armenia, Lebanon (by Armenian Lebanese)
In regions outside the influence of the Roman Empire, such as Armenia, there was no competing holiday such as Sol Invictus. This meant that the Christian church had no reason to move the date of Christmas, so the original date of 6th January stayed as it was.
7th January – Orthodox Christmas
Observed in: Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine
The Orthodox Church recognises 7th January as the day that Jesus was born. The different date from the western tradition of 25 December is twofold. Firstly, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII, ruled that the Catholic Church should follow a new calendar – called the Gregorian calendar rather than the Julian calendar which had been established by Julius Caesar in 46BC. This meant the dates differed by 10 days with Gregorian Christmas on 4th January. Secondly, due to the way that leap years differ between the two calendars, Orthodox Christmas has moved forward by another 3 days since 1582 and is now on 7th January. By 2100 AD, Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated on 8th January.
In the post soviet era, Orthodox Christmas has become a new holiday in some countries with an Orthodox community. To encourage adoption, it often forms the end part of an extended winter holiday that starts with New Years Day.
7th January – Coptic Christmas
Observed in: Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea (by Coptic community)
The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian calendar, is used by the Coptic Orthodox Church. This calendar is based on the ancient Egyptian calendar and similar to the Julian Calendar used by the Orthodox Church.
Which countries don’t celebrate Christmas Day?
The following is a list of countries that don’t observe a public holiday for Christmas: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Djibouti, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Mauritania, Mongolia, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.