Over Orthodox Christmas, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order for a 36-hour cease-fire in Ukraine, the first significant truce in the more than 10-month conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and wrecked large portions of the country.
According to the Kremlin, Putin ordered the truce to start on January 6. On January 6–7, many Orthodox Christians—including those who reside in Russia and Ukraine—celebrate Christmas.
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What is Russian Orthodox Christmas?
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas, which honours the birth of Jesus Christ, on January 7 according to the common Gregorian calendar, while the catholic church celebrates it on December 25 in accordance with the Julian calendar.
Around 260 million Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas around the world, including in Ethiopian, Egyptian, and other communities as well as in majority-Orthodox nations in Eastern Europe like Russia and Greece.
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The Russian Orthodox Church regards Christmas as a major feast; it is one of the 12 Great Feasts and one of only four that are preceded by a period of fasting.
The holiday, which is observed with prayer vigils and customary feasts, has its roots in the Orthodox churches’ centuries-old choice to secede from the Catholic church and follow a calendar that is different from the one that is currently followed by the majority of the world.
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Orthodox customs vary according to place, ecclesiastical branch, and regional practices. But a lot of people associate Christmas with pious religious celebrations.
Orthodox Christians typically observe a 40-day fast before Christmas to prepare for the advent of Christ by avoiding foods including meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. Christmas itself is observed as one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church, with church attendance and family celebrations, following a vigil on Christmas Eve.
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Orthodox Christmas celebrations revolve heavily around food, and regional traditions often differ. On Christmas Eve in Russia, kutya, a type of wheat and rice porridge, is typically consumed, frequently from a communal bowl signifying unity. Sometimes people throw food up to the ceiling; if it sticks, they believe it will bring them luck.