The Gregorian calendar is the internationally accepted civil calendar and is also known as the Western, secular or Christian calendar. The Julian calendar was a dating system established by Julius Caesar.
Israel & Palestine
In Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic community celebrate on December 25.
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates on December 25, too, but on the Julian calendar, which is about 13 days off from the Gregorian calendar. Julian December 25 falls on January 7 on the Gregorian calendar.
The Armenian Church in Jerusalem (along with Armenia and Lebanon) celebrates Christmas on January 6. It was not until 400A.D., following Christianity’s migration to the Roman Empire, that Christmas was moved to December 25th to coincide with other seasonal celebrations stemming from the Winter Solstice.
Armenians in the rest of the world follow the Gregorian calendar, the calendar that was first instituted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.
In the vast majority of Israel and Palestine, Christmas is just another day since most people are Jewish or Muslim.
Outside of Jerusalem, The major places where Christmas is celebrated are Nazareth in the north of Israel, and Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territory, both of which have more concentrated Christian populations and history.
Those places will have lights and decorations. Nazareth has a Christmas market which is quite festive and sells some local items.
Bethlehem can get very crowded at Christmas, with both tourists and locals. You can get tickets to midnight mass at the main church. Visit the Christmas market there. Bethlehem is very well-known for olive wood manger scenes and Christmas ornaments.
Under the state atheism of the Soviet Union, after its foundation in 1917, Christmas celebrations—along with other Christian holidays—were prohibited in public. During the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, the League of Militant Atheists encouraged school pupils to campaign against Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, as well as other Christian holidays, including Easter; the League established an antireligious holiday to be the 31st of each month as a replacement.
It was not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the persecution ended and Orthodox Christmas became a state holiday again for the first time in Russia after seven decades.
Read more: Countries that don’t celebrate Christmas
As in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, and due to the 13-day difference between the newer Gregorian Calendar and the older Julian Calendars, Christmas is celebrated on January 7.
Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On Christmas Eve there are several long services, after which the family will return home for the traditional Christmas Eve “Holy Supper”, which consists of 12 dishes, one to honour each of the Twelve Apostles. Devout families will then return to church for the “All Night Vigil”.
On Christmas Morning the Divine Liturgy of the Nativity is held, and families return to their local churches to attend. Since 1992 Christmas has become a national holiday in Russia, as part of the ten-day holiday at the start of every new year.
The festive period lasts from November 30 to January 6 (Epiphany) on the Greek calendar. December 25 and 26 is a public holiday in Greece. In Greek, Christmas is known as Christougena and people wish Merry Christmas to each other saying Kala Christougenna.
Most families set up Christmas trees and shops have decorations and lights. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree and are opened on January 1, St Basil’s Day.
In Greek tradition, Basil’s (of Caesarea) name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and give presents on January 1 (when Basil’s memory is celebrated), unlike other European traditions, where this person is Saint Nicholas and comes every Christmas.
Carol singing is another tradition on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The Christmas meal usually includes lamb or pork and desserts such as kourabies and melomakarona Other Christmas and new year foods include ‘Baklava‘ (sweet pastry), Kataifi (pastry), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry).
Egypt has the largest community of Christians in the region. About 15 percent of the population is Christian and the vast majority belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, so their Christmas day celebration is on January 7, not December 25.
The month before Coptic Christmas, believers fast, eating only food that would be similar to a vegan diet. On Christmas Eve, on January 6, they attend a special midnight mass.
Main image: Window showing the Nativity Scene above the altar of the Church of St. Catherine, this is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Dennis Jarvis, Flickr Creative Commons