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Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas this weekend


Today is Christmas Eve, according to the Julian calendar, the one established by Julius Caesar, the Roman leader, before the Gregorian calendar became the standard we know today. A small but significant portion of the world's Christians still follow that calendar, so they will celebrate Christmas tomorrow in countries like Ethiopia and Egypt and Moldova and Russia.


You might be familiar with what's sometimes called Christmas creep, when - you know, when you hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" the day after Halloween.


MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) I don't want a lot for Christmas. There is just one thing I need.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, Mimi, we get it. But Barbara Bruce likes that her Christmas season is so drawn out.

BARBARA BRUCE: You don't get the post-holiday blues because you're just starting to celebrate it.

INSKEEP: Bruce attends an Orthodox Christian church in British Columbia and runs a blog about her Orthodox Christian faith.

BRUCE: The time before isn't, you know, rushing round, partying, things like that. It's a beautiful time, spiritually, because it actually makes you stand back and - like, where am I going with my life? What am I doing?

MARTÍNEZ: She says Orthodox Christians typically do a vegan fast for 40 days before starting 12 days of Christmas celebrations on January 7.

BRUCE: We greet each other for 12 days. We say, Christ is born. And the response is, glorify him.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) ...And grant us from him tender compassion.

INSKEEP: Many Orthodox Christians do not give gifts at Christmas. Bruce does, which means, at least in theory, that she can take advantage of post-Christmas sales.

BRUCE: We get asked that quite a bit. But on the bad side of that, everything's always sold out. There's a lot more homemade things that're made. Maybe you're talented making, like, art or baking or something like that.

MARTÍNEZ: They don't eat their first meal until after the stars come out.

BRUCE: There's a white tablecloth representing the swaddling clothes of Christ. There's a white pillar candle signifying, of course, Christ being the light of the world. If you have straw available, there's straw put on the tablecloth, and you hope that your young children don't start playing with the fire and the straw.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, another tradition among Orthodox Christians is that they make sure all the pets in the house have been fed before they eat.

BRUCE: In remembrance of the animals that were at the manger with Christ.

INSKEEP: And what's on the table?

BRUCE: There's usually about 12 Lenten dishes, like going from bitter to sweet, reminding us of where we are in our life and then coming to the sweetness of Christ's birth.

INSKEEP: So when people have eaten, they don't do the dishes right away, instead leaving for church.

BRUCE: There was the flight into Egypt after Christ was an infant and the King Herod was coming to kill the children 2 years and under. So right after we have this quiet meal, we depart to church for the service.

MARTÍNEZ: That was Barbara Bruce, who is preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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