Do you know when Christmas is celebrated? I am sure you will reply 25th of December. Well actually it is correct but it all depends on which part of the world you are. Most of the world celebrates Christmas on 25th of December but there are some communities which celebrate Christmas on a different date. The best example for this would be that of the Armenians.
The Armenians celebrate Christmas on 6th of January, this is the also known as Epiphany across the Christian Calendar. On this day according to the Gospels, there was a “Revelation from God” that Jesus is the son of God. Some also commemorate the visit of the Magi wherein three wise men visited Jesus to present him with the three gifts.
Historically all churches till the 4th century celebrated Christmas on 6th January but the Roman Catholic Church shifted to 25th of December. The reason being that on 25th of December the Pagan tradition celebrated the sun (Winter Solstice). To suppress this pagan belief the Roman Catholic Church changed the date to 25th of December.
However, some churches remain unaffected especially those which directly did not come under the Roman Catholic Church. These churches continued to celebrate Christmas on 6th of January. And Armenian Church kept up with the tradition since in Armenia there was no Pagan culture.
There were a good number of Armenian Christians in Kolkata during the British Raj. Some of the landmark buildings were built by them like Queens Mansion, Park Mansion, Masonic Lodge – Freemasons Hall, Nizam Palace etc. However, over the years this number decreased steadily and only a handful stayed back in this city.
This year I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Christmas twice. Once on 25th of December when my family celebrated Christmas and the next one was on 6th of January when a good friend of mine Anthony invited me to attend the Armenian Christmas celebrations.
Being an avid blogger and a photographer I could not say no and joined the church service along with my wife. Initially, I wanted to come alone but my wife insisted on joining as she was very much interested in witnessing a different type of Christmas.
We went to the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth which is an Armenian Apostolic church and incidentally the oldest church in Kolkata. The location is in the North of the city near Burrabazar. The Armenians came to the city around 1688 and with a growing population, this church was founded in the year 1708. This church also has the oldest Christian tombstone, it is in the name of Rezabeebeh Sarkies, who died on 11 July 1630.
One very fascinating fact about this church are the fact that you have to walk over graves which are scattered around the church to get inside. This is quite uncommon and not seen in any church. This is done so that when someone walks over the grave they will see the name and remember the departed and pray for them.
Armenian Church is very different to the Protestant church that I go to. The main difference would be that of the chants that accompany each prayer. The pipe organ (now a keyboard) which plays along with the chants creates a beautiful atmosphere inside the church.
The head priest is assisted by the boys of Armenian School and College. This is also a perfect way for them to know mow more about the culture and traditions. The church service includes a Holy Communion, Blessing of the Baptismal Water, Symbolic Baptism of the Cross, Kissing of the Cross to seek to bless and drinking the holy baptismal water.
After the Church service, light refreshments are served outside the church followed by a grand lunch at the Armenian Club. This club is located inside Queen’s Mansion. This is followed by a tea party at the Armenian Sports Club.
Next year you know where you would be on 6th of January, it’s something which you cannot miss and must see it once in your lifetime.