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It's Christmas Day for band of Armenians - The Times of India

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    It s Christmas Day for band of Armenians - The Times of India It s Christmas Day for band of Armenians Ajanta Chakraborty, TNN, Jan 6, 2011, 01.27am IST
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      It's Christmas Day for band of Armenians - The Times of India

      It's Christmas Day for band of Armenians
      Ajanta Chakraborty, TNN, Jan 6, 2011, 01.27am IST
      KOLKATA: Rev. Father Khoren Hovhannisyan, pastor (priest) of Armenians in India, is earnestly preparing himself for the Christmas Mass on Thursday. Yes you heard right. Christmas is on Thursday for the 150-odd Armenians in Kolkata.

      And this Christmas, mind you, is steeped in tradition and ritual. 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).

      "Jesus Christ was born on January 6 and not on December 25. The later Christians changed the date at their own convenience," said the priest, adding, "The Christmas Eve Mass is the same as our Easter Mass which will coincide with the Catholic Easter. But the Christmas mass or the Divine Liturgy is very special." The venue for the congregation: the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth at Armenian Street off Burrabazar.

      On Christmas Day, the church that is barely attended by 15 to 20 people on a Sunday, will be choc-a-bloc with 150 or more Armenians. The grand altar will be decorated with flowers and candles and the bell will toll proclaiming the birth of the King, Jesus Christ.

      The priest spoke of some salient features of the Christmas service. "The congregation stands instead of sitting on the pews. We fast an entire week starting December 30, the week preceding Christmas," he said. During this period, meat is best avoided and a light meal a day is the order. On January 5, families attend church and celebrate the Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy. The next day is the Feast of the Theophany (the Manifestation of God).

      On the agenda is the special Christmas dinner where one can dig into dolma minced meat and baked potato pudding served with brown rice. The spices and herbs are special, often imported from Armenia. The lavash or bread is similar to naan. Also on the platter is kuku pilaf rice cooked with greens and omelette.

      The Armenians say historians are a dwindling community. But they have kept returning to Kolkata in search of their roots (the city, they say, was founded by them and has the most number of Armenians in the country). Said Artur Marusevich (20), who came to the city a decade ago to study at the Armenian College here, "We have kept the Julian calendar alive. On December 25, we celebrated with our Roman Catholic and Protestant friends. On Thursday, we will be celebrating our own Christmas." Echoed Tatevik Tadevosyan (21), "It's double Christmas celebration for us."

      After the holy mass, the priest conducts the water blessings in the holy (silver) bowl . "And then I shall do the bread-water-salt blessing. Everyone must eat the bread and the salt and drink the holy water," said Rev Hovhannisyan. The hymn is in the Armenian language.

      The morning prayers over, the action shifts to the lawns of the Armenian Sports Club at the Maidan and people show up in their Sunday best to exchange greetings. It's also an opportunity to meet up, sing and dance because many have returned to Kolkata just to attend Christmas.

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