Christmas celebrations kick off for hundreds in Sacramento

Didn’t send your Christmas cards out yet? Still looking for the perfect gift? No worries if you follow the Julian calendar – you still have about 24 hours. Hundreds of Sacramentans don’t celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25; they celebrate the birth of Christ today and continue celebrating through tomorrow.

Sacramentans who launched their Christmas holiday last night include some Russians, Serbians, Ethiopians, Georgians, Coptic Christians from Egypt, Armenians and other followers of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, said the Rev. Dino Pappademos of Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Elk Grove.

Pappademos said the Greek Orthodox Church was one of the last western churches to convert to the Gregorian calendar, adopted in the time of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. “The change was made to the Gregorian calendar by the Greek Orthodox Church in the 1920s because we believe it’s more accurate,” said Pappademos, noting that many followers of the Eastern Orthodox tradition “tend to be a little bit more conservative in their approach, so they still follow the calendar implemented by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar that was in use during the time of Christ’s birth.”

The Julian calendar is based on the lunar cycle, while the Gregorian calendar widely in use worldwide is based on the solar cycle, explained the Rev. Paul Volmensky of the Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Church on 13th Street in downtown Sacramento, among those celebrating Christmas today. “There’s no perfect calendar – even the solar Gregorian calendar has its disadvantages,” Volmensky said. “It’s kind of sad it was changed because it kind of split everybody up several centuries ago.”

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church on Sunset Avenue in Fair Oaks went all out Monday for its Christmas Eve celebration, which began in the morning with three Old Testament readings, including prophecies from Isaiah and Jeremiah about the coming of Christ, said the Rev. Bill Weir. Then, after a 5 p.m. service, the 200 members of the Serbian Orthodox church went out to the parking lot for the blessing and burning of the Yule Log, “a young red oak tree with leaves that produce a higher heat, representing the Lord Jesus Christ, the newborn king that is providing heat to all of us,” said the Rev. Dane Popovic, a Serbian immigrant, who presided.

After the fire, each family took a little twig with leaves to keep in their home, Weir said. For 40 days before Christmas, Eastern Orthodox worshippers don’t eat meat or dairy as part of a strict fast that doesn’t ease until the nativity celebration on Christmas Eve, Weir said. “Then, you’re allowed to have oil, so we mix shredded cod fish with lump mashed potatoes, olive oil, a ton of garlic and parsley and also a salad and Serbian lima beans,” Weir said. The fast-breaking also features slivovitz, a warmed plum brandy, Weir said.

While the church used to have Santa Claus show up, now there’s “Old Man Christmas,” who appears in well-worn winter clothes and gives the children sweets, Weir said. Gift-giving and Christmas dinner are left to each family’s discretion. Today, the Christmas Day Divine Liturgy – in English with some Serbian and Slovakian – is scheduled for 10 a.m. “Up at the Serbian church in Jackson it gets even more rustic – the former sheriff is a member, and they fire a shotgun after the service,” Weir said.

Regardless of when you celebrate Christmas, “people should be contemplating why we got into such bad shape we even needed a savior to show up in the first place,” Weir said.

Still haven’t made resolutions? If you follow the Julian calendar, you have until Jan. 14, when many Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate New Year’s Eve, 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

Source: Western American Diocese, The Sacramento Bee