January 7 is December 25

Today, it’s December 25 again. Merry Christmas! Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

First some background:

All of the individual cultures of the world have their own calendar systems and their own ways of dating things. That is a very, very complicated subject, and I am not going to even try to get into that here. However, I do want to say something on the BC/AD and BCE/CE thing.

Because of the major world-wide impact of Christianity through the growth of European influence in the world over many centuries, the traditional world standard for historical dating became the BC/AD convention. “BC” means “Before Christ,” and “AD” means “Anno Domini,” Latin for “Year of Our Lord,” which further means, in effect, “year since the birth of Christ.”

Now, as we know, time passes, and things change. Christianity began to lose some ground as a world-dominant system in the 15th-17th centuries (AD). By the 18th century, many people began to think that a world dating system other than the BC/AD convention should be adopted. Various alternatives have been proposed. The one that has become fairly widely adopted is the BCE/CE convention. “BCE” means “Before the Common Era,” and “CE” means “Common Era.”

Obviously, the BCE/CE system is a little less “Christian” than the BC/AD system since there is no mention of Christ or Christianity in the new scheme. However, it is obvious (isn’t it?) that it is still the birth of Christ that is the pivot-point of the BCE/CE system.

Also, one might wonder just what is “common” about the “Common Era” (i.e., the time since the birth of Jesus). Do we all have all that much in common? Isn’t the world full of divisions, conflicts, tensions, wars (and rumors of wars), etc.?

By the way, the world-historical calendar dating (which was set up in the 5th or 6th century AD (pardon the expression) is off by several years. We are pretty sure that Jesus was, in fact, born some time between 6 and 4 BC (i.e., Christ was born “Before Christ”). But that is another big and complicated story….

Now, about December 25:

Some people wonder about the “calendar differences” between the Eastern and Western churches. Here’s just a bit of clarification on this:

In the world of the Eastern Orthodox churches, there are two different calendars in use: the “old (Julian) calendar” and the “new calendar.” Some Orthodox churches are “old calendarists,” and others are “new calendarists.” For example, the jurisdiction called the “Orthodox Church in America” (OCA) – follows the “new calendar,” in which Christmas and Epiphany (Theophany) (and other holy days, except for Pascha – “Easter”) are celebrated on the same dates as those in the “Western” calendar. So for the OCA, January 7 is not Christmas but just January 7, the day after Theophany (Jan. 6).

Several other Orthodox churches are also “new calendarists” – e.g., the Orthodox churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria. The churches of Jerusalem, Russia, and Serbia, along with the monasteries on Mt. Athos, all continue to adhere to the old (Julian) calendar.

Both East and West agree that Christmas should be celebrated on December 25. However, December 25 in the Julian (old) calendar is January 7 in the “Western” calendar.

All very confusing? Yes, it is. In 2007, for example, both Western “Easter” and the Orthodox “Pascha” fell on April 8. However, in 2008, Western “Easter” fell on March 23, while Orthodox “Pascha” fell more than a month later on April 27. In 2009, Western Easter was on April 12 and Orthodox Pascha was on April 19. In 2010, Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha both fell on April 4; and in 2011, they again occurred on the same date, April 24. In 2012, “Easter” was on April 8, and “Pascha” was on April 15. Last year, 2013, “Easter” was on March 31, and “Pascha” took place on May 5. This year, 2014, “Easter” and “Pascha” fell on the same date, April 20. This dating business originates from a different basis than the dating of Christmas. All Orthodox churches date Pascha according to the calendar that was in use in Judaism in the days of Jesus. That calendar is no longer observed in Judaism itself nor in the Western Christian churches.

Quiz: What was the date and year of George Washington’s Birthday? Bonus: Was the Russian Revolution in the fall of 1917 in October or November?