06 January 2013
An Ordinary Armenian Christmas
I love Armenian Christmas. I love the fact that as an American-born Armenian, we get to celebrate Christmas with the rest of the country and enjoy the Christmas carols, gifts, Santa and all the trappings of the season, but then come January 6, we get to celebrate the birth and revelation of God. My earliest childhood recollection is a view our priest dripping the holy oil into the large bowl of water during the traditional water blessing. I remember the view of all the heads below me as I sat perched on my father's shoulders above the crowd. "Watch..see the dove," he said to me in Armenian, "watch carefully and you'll see the oil will drip from its beak." And as he said that, I remember my priest reading the prayers over the water and the muron dripping forth from the beautiful silver dove - the vessel for the holy oil. To this day, I think of that image every time I witness this service.
In our family, the "celebration" of Armenian Christmas was more of a celebration of worship and faith. My parents both sang in the choir, and later I would join them. My brothers served on the altar. My grandmothers sat in the pew with my younger sister. We went to Christmas eve service, and then the following morning to church again. We would prepare ourselves for this holy day by fasting. Of course, after church we would have a small family dinner with my grandparents, but it wasn't the feasting and merriment of American Christmas. And I was always good with that. Until this year.
This year, things are different. Times are changing, and I felt it. My daughter and son-in-law's schedules didn't allow them to attend church this Christmas. My son doesn't normally attend. My mom came to Christmas Eve service, but she's getting older and attending Sunday morning was too much for her. My husband came with me last night, and when I asked if he was attending the Christmas morning service, I didn't get an answer. I took that for no. My sister and her family had plans. So this morning, I woke up, got ready, woke my husband to say goodbye, and headed down to church. Along the way, I snapped a picture as I was driving. There was no traffic, it was just like any other normal Sunday. And it felt very "ordinary."
Maybe it was the fact that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year. When it's fallen on a weekday, I take off work. It somehow makes it less ordinary to get the day off to celebrate your holiday. As I drove I was reflecting on how things had changed. What had happened? Today is a Holy day - the birth of Christ, and the revelation that He is God. This is a big-time holiday. It deserves our attention and effort. I'm not saying it needs to be commercial, but maybe our idea for a lack of pageantry, is causing this important celebration to fall by the wayside. If we don't preserve the specialness of this day, who will?
I arrived at church, and walking in I was greeted by members of my church family. They were welcoming and joyous, greeting each other with the day's greeting: Krisdos dzunav yev hydnetzav; Ortnyal eh hydnootiunun Kristosi! Church was packed. And the energy level was high. The entire congregation was singing the hymns with the choir. I started feeling better. The sermon was powerful; and the congregation was happy as we heard of all the work we did this Christmas season: collecting toys for children in the shelter; caroling for the people in the hospital, feeding the hungry; making handmade blankets for the children who are suffering from cancer. It was a celebration of LIVING our Christian faith.
When we were called up to communion, I looked back, and there in the crowd of people, I saw my husband. Whether he felt the calling to attend, or he knew it was important to me (or both), I was happy to see him so we could celebrate this day together.
During the water blessing, I watched my brother (our priest) pour the holy oil into the water, and I flashed back on my childhood....and the view from on top of my father's shoulders. Even though things seemed to have changed this year, there was comfort in knowing that our service had remained the same for hundreds of years...and that this same service was going on in Armenian churches on this day all over the world.
I vowed to myself to start a new tradition to preserve the specialness of this holiday for my family. Next year, I'm inviting the family over on Armenian Christmas Eve, after church. And I'm going to INSIST that they come. To come together and celebrate life and the blessings that we are so fortunate to have. This old tradition of celebrating Armenian Christmas in the celebratory sense has taken a back seat in our westernized life of "getting back on track in the New Year." But it deserves focus and preparation. It's time to make the old tradition new again! The importance of this day is determined by each of us - do we choose to make it a priority in our lives? or have it be just an ordinary day?
I wish you all a very blessed Christmas! Christ is born and revealed; Blessed is the Revelation of Christ!