By Vaishalli Chandra
Bangalore: Michael Stephen will be visiting St Mary's Armenian Church in Chennai on January 6, where he will decorate the altar with flowers, light candles and ring the bell to commemorate the birth of the King, Jesus Christ.
The Stephens, living on the HAL Airport Road, will not be the only ones in the city to celebrate Christmas on January 6. With them will be two more families, the Minases and Eknayans. They are the three Armenian families settled in Bangalore.
The Armenian Orthodox Church still reckons its year by the Julian Calendar and celebrates the birth of Christ on January 6 (also known as Old Christmas).
Though they are set to celebrate Christmas next month, the three families here were very much part of the festivities happening around them. Here in the city, these families celebrate Christmas twice. So do their friends and neighbours.
“We are celebrating Christmas today, but the actual celebration will be on January 6, the day it is Christmas for us,” said Paul Minas, a third generation Armenian in the city. Apart from the difference in dates, the festivities are the same. Minas will hold a special service at his home in Banaswadi on January 6. His Christian friends will also attend the service.
On Friday, Minas also joined the celebrations. “It is Christmas, and we celebrated with our Roman Catholic and Protestant friends,” he said, adding that for them it is a double celebration as they exchange gifts on December 25 as well as on January 6.
For Maureen Eknayan, Christmas gives an opportunity to stroll down memory lane. “My husband and I will go to Bombay (now Mumbai). After the service, the families will get together for a grand meal,” she said, recalling that the service lasted three hours and was in Armenian, the language spoken by 97.7% of the population in her Motherland.
Maureen's father was part of the choir in Kolkata, the city with the most number of Armenians. Besides Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore are home to the 125-odd Armenians in the country.
Stephen, who had been to Armenia during Christmas, spoke about the difference in celebrations. “Eighty percent of the congregation there stand during the service at the main Cathedral. We are so used to the pews here.”
For Armenians, the week preceding January 6 is one of fasting. They avoid meat (seafood not included), and eat a light meal a day. Stephen, however, added that only 15% of the Armenians observe the fast these days.
On January 5, families attend church and celebrate the Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy. They do the same on the morning of January 6, and observe that day as the Feast of the Theophany (the Manifestation of God).
Minas said he will have dolma – minced meat and baked potato pudding served with brown rice – for Christmas. The spices and herbs, he said, are available at Thom's Bakery in Frazer Town.
“My mother-in-law sends some of the herbs to us,” said Maureen. She said that earlier in Mumbai, they used to have lavash, a bread similar to naan, and delicacies like kuku pilaf – rice cooked with greens and omelette.
Source: “DNA India”, 26 December 2009