Why Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas Later: The Julian Calendar Explained

Greek Orthodox Christmas with Old Julian Calendar (Jan 6th/7th, 2019

Have you ever wondered why some Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th while others celebrate it in January? The answer lies in the use of different calendars. While most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582, some Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. This means that their religious holidays, including Christmas, fall later in the year. In this post, we’ll delve deeper into the Julian calendar and why it’s still important to Orthodox Christians today.

What is the Julian Calendar?

The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE and was used throughout the Roman Empire until the 16th century. It was based on the solar year, which is the time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun. The Julian calendar had 365 days in a year and an additional day every four years (leap year). This system worked well for several centuries, but over time, it became clear that it was not entirely accurate. The Julian calendar lost about three days every 400 years, which meant that the seasons and religious holidays gradually shifted.

Why Do Orthodox Christians Use the Julian Calendar?

When the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, it was adopted by most Catholic countries in Europe. However, some Orthodox Christian countries, including Russia, Greece, and Serbia, continued to use the Julian calendar. This was partly due to political reasons, as the Orthodox Church did not want to be seen as following the lead of the Catholic Church. But it was also due to religious reasons, as the Orthodox Church saw the Julian calendar as more closely aligned with the original Christian calendar.

The Impact on Christmas

One of the most significant differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars is the date of Christmas. While most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar celebrate it on January 7th. This is because the Julian calendar is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. This means that all the religious holidays that fall in December, including Christmas, Epiphany, and St. Nicholas Day, are celebrated later by Orthodox Christians.

How Do Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas?

While the date of Christmas may be different for Orthodox Christians, the way they celebrate it is similar to other Christians around the world. The Christmas season begins on December 20th and lasts until January 7th. During this time, Orthodox Christians fast, attend church services, and celebrate with family and friends. On Christmas Eve, they attend a special liturgy service, which includes the blessing of the bread and wine. They then return home to break their fast with a feast that includes traditional dishes such as kutia, borscht, and pierogi. On Christmas Day, they attend another liturgy service, which includes the singing of carols and the exchange of gifts.

The Importance of Understanding Different Calendars

Understanding the Julian calendar and its impact on religious holidays is not just important for Orthodox Christians, but for everyone. In today’s globalized world, it’s essential to be aware of different cultural and religious practices, and to respect and celebrate diversity. By understanding and appreciating different calendars, we can deepen our understanding of our own traditions and the traditions of others.


The Julian calendar may be an ancient calendar system, but it still plays an important role in the lives of Orthodox Christians today. By using this calendar, they are able to maintain a connection to their religious and cultural heritage. Understanding the Julian calendar and its impact on religious holidays is not just important for Orthodox Christians, but for all of us who seek to celebrate diversity and deepen our understanding of different cultures and traditions. So, next time you hear someone say they’re celebrating Christmas on January 7th, you’ll know why.

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