Armenian Christmas: A personal tale

A table set with dishes, such as zook, that are eaten during Armenian Christmas dinner . Photo credit: Karin Abcarians

Armenian Christmas occurs every Jan. 6 and is celebrated by all Armenian religions such as Catholic, Apostolic and Christian. It is a day for family to come together, break fast and be merry.

This holiday holds a special place in my heart since I am Armenian, and it gets me closer to my culture.

On Jan. 6, most of us go to church to celebrate. The church service features water blessed by the priest, which we then take home in many cups. The water is supposed to help all your ailments. When I went to my first Armenian church service, it was great and an eye-opening experience. I never knew what was involved in the ceremony. It made me feel closer to God and what it it means to be an Armenian.

This holiday is a good excuse to see family you haven’t seen a long time. We get the opportunity to gather with family one more time as the new year gets underway.

It’s all different from regular Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners; we eat traditional foods rather than turkey and ham. My family loves to cook the traditional foods: cuckoo pilaf which is a mixture of eggs and different greens that form together to make a cake-like dish, and zook, which is Armenian for “fish”. Some famiies also have kabobs.

For the zook, we sometimes have it breaded or we put the whole fish in the oven! We also add other things like salad, vegetables, rice and crispy fish for people who don’t like the normal salty fish and more. We dip Holy bread into wine and eat it – this symbolizes Christ.

We share stories of anything that has happened since we last saw each other on Christmas and eat, eat and eat! There’s also dessert after.

We end the night with goodbyes, which end up taking forever; Armenians tend to extend goodbyes. We’ll stand by the door continuously talking and almost forgetting we were leaving. Eventually, we actually say the goodbyes and head home.

One misconception people have about Armenian Christmas is that they think we get more gifts. That isn’t true. We don’t. In fact, it would be completely weird if we gave each other gifts. Ours is a celebration of Christ and his incarnation; it has to do with the baptism of Christ. People also tend to think we don’t celebrate regular Christmas because we have our own. That’s not completely true; some do and some don’t. Some families just wait until Armenian Christmas, while others celebrate both.

It’s nice to have an extra excuse to hang out with family isn’t it? In our busy and hectic lives, we sometimes forget to see our families, so the holiday season reminds us to slow down and appreciate them.

Cowritten with Karin Abcarians