DETROIT — This holiday season was a little quieter than many people, especially Armenians, are used to. Due to Covid-19 and the shadow cast by the Artsakh War, the celebrations of the world have been toned down and especially that has been true in Armenia.
Every group of Armenians from every region of the historic homeland or country of the Diaspora has their own traditions and customs and those that relate to Christmas and the New Year are no different. While this survey is not a definitive study, we spoke to Armenians from many different backgrounds, to hear what they had to say about the holiday traditions they grew up with.
The Armenian Holiday Season
The most salient aspect of the Armenian holiday season is, of course, the celebration of Christmas on January 6. This is why in Armenian it is proper to say “Happy New Year and Merry Christmas” rather than the other way around. In Jerusalem, where the Old Calendar is used, the Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 19, due the old-calendar year being off by 13 days comparative to the astronomical solar year. The Old (Julian) Calendar continues century by century to deviate, and that is also the reason that some other Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, (and back in the 20th century, on the 6th). For them it is, by calendar, December 25. The Armenian liturgical calendar is the only one in which Christmas is truly celebrated on January 6.
In general, New Year’s Eve in Armenia and the Middle Eastern communities is observed as a day of celebrations, eating and drinking; it is also when gifts are given and when “Gaghant Baba” or “Dzmer Papik” (Santa Claus) makes his visit. It is where the Christmas tree — called in Armenian “Donadzar” (Holiday Tree) makes its appearance. New Year’s Eve in traditional Armenian culture is pretty similar to the secular version of American and Western Christmas.
Armenian Christmas, on the other hand, is for most, a different kind of holiday. Most seem to see it as a special family gathering and meal rather than an over-the-top festival style holiday.