OUR NEW YEAR
The New Year and Nativity/Theophany celebrations are something different in the Middle East, and especially in Istanbul. Among the two-thirds of the Armenian people who live in the Diaspora in various countries, Catholic and Protestant traditions clearly affect Armenians and their families. In most parts of the West places of work are closed, and the feasts of the birth and baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the New Year celebration, begin on 24/25 December.
As His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, mentioned in several previous articles, he sees no harm in this. His Beatitude the Patriarch said, "The coming of God's Word in the bodily form of Jesus of Nazareth is such a deep mystery that we prepare for it for seven weeks, and we have related activities that altogether last until 14 February. Instead of restricting the feast to 5/6 January we celebrate it for a full two weeks, from 24 December to 6 January. Is there anything to match that?"
The Western Churches divided the Feast of Epiphany beginning in the 4th century, followed closely thereafter by churches in Anatolia, and then at the beginning of the last century by the Syrian Orthodox Church. Epiphany was celebrated previously on 5/6 January, but they began to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ on 24/25 December and His baptism on 5/6 January. But the Armenian Church continued with the oldest tradition in Christian history and celebrated both the nativity and the baptism on 5/6 January. They called this feast the "Nativity and Theophany" (Surp Dzınunt yev Asdvadzadzahaydnutyun).
Preparation for the Feast of Nativity and Theophany lasts for seven weeks and is called the period of Advent (Hisnag, meaning "fifty days"). In the first, fourth, and seventh weeks of Advent, a vegetarian diet is recommended to church members. At sunset on every Saturday, a new purple candle is lighted with the saying of prayers and singing of hymns.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
In Armenian traditions the evening of 31 December takes place in the family home. People go to a nearby church for end of year prayers.
That evening the members of the family, relatives, and friends come together. The poor, the lonely, the widows, the orphans, and the handicapped are not forgotten; if possible, they are invited to the evening meal. Because of the dietary restrictions of the Feast of Nativity and Theophany, the table features sea foods and vegetarian dishes, in addition to topik and dried fruits and nuts. Although it is not an Armenian tradition, turkey has often been served as well, ever since the 1930s.
At two minutes to midnight all lights in the house are put out, and the New Year is entered with the saying of the Lord's Prayer. Immediately after the prayer all lights in the house are turned on and everyone embraces each other, conveys their best wishes for the New Year, gives presents to the children, and eats anooshaboor, which is a type of pudding.
As soon as the New Year begins, traditions particular to Istanbul Armenians take place. For instance, pomegranates, which symbolize prosperity, are smashed on the thresholds of shops, or placed on desks in offices. Visits are made to at least one sacred spring until morning breaks, and in the morning people go to church and join the first Divine Liturgy of the New Year. There are special Father Christmas, New Year, and Nativity and Theophany concerts for children that are held in churches and schools.
ARMENIAN CHRISTMAS EVE
Djrakalooyts - this Armenian word means the lighting of lamps and candles, and it is used for the eve of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany, and the eve of Easter. After the Divine Liturgy, which begins in the churches at sunset, families gather as they do for New Year's Eve. Because of dietary restrictions meat is not eaten, and seafood is preferred.
THE FEAST OF NATIVITY AND THEOPHANY
Every member of the community must attend the Divine Liturgy in the churches between 10:00 and 12:00. In all churches the Feast message of His Beatitude the Patriarch is read. At 10:00 a religious procession takes place from the Patriarchate building in Kumkapi to the Patriarchal church. After the service, His Beatitude the Patriarch similarly returns to the Patriarchate. At 15:00 anyone who wishes can join the festival reception in the Bezciyan Hall. Afterwards people pass the holiday by visiting near and distant relatives until the late hours of the evening.
COMMEMORATION OF DECEASED FAMILY MEMBERS
On the second day of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany, people visit the cemeteries, if only briefly, and we remember our loved ones who now rest in the Lord. The message of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany thus becomes good news to everyone, alive or deceased.
OUR HOMES ARE BLESSED
During the 40-day period from 6 January to 14 February, members of the community make an appointment at a convenient day and time with the pastor of the family or the neighbourhood to visit their home sites. A small traditional prayer is said at the home, incense is lighted, and the Gospel is read. The birth of Jesus Christ has changed world history, yet the spiritual blessings and joy that can be felt in our individual or family lives by giving Him a place again in our hearts is announced anew.
Christ is Born and Revealed! Joy to the world!
Blessed be his Revelation! Joy to the world!