I’ve written about the surreal experience of living in a land with two Christmases before, but it wasn’t until this year that I learned to truly appreciate what a weird and serendipitous event the 2-Christmas System truly is.
What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Christmas has always been a weird holiday. Just 200 years ago, it was predominately an end of the year festival replete with pagan customs like bringing green plants indoors, drinking and eating to excess, dressing up in weird clothes, and singing outside the homes of the rich so that they’d give you money or food.
Despite the birth of Jesus playing a prominent role in two of the gospels of the New Testament (Luke and Matthew), it was a minor religious holiday throughout much of the history of Christianity.
For one thing, nobody could quite ever figure out exactly when Jesus was born, and textual clues such as shepherds being out in the fields with their flocks lend credence to the theory that Jesus was born sometime in the spring.
However, once different Christian and pagan customs about the end of the year met and fused in America, the modern holiday of Christmas was formed. A combination of a Dutch folklore story, a Christian saint (Nicholas), a hoax, and a soft drink led to the creation of (red) Santa Claus, the conflating of gift-giving with the birth of Jesus, pine trees inside the home, and the modern Christmas holiday as we know it today.
For Catholics and Protestants, Christmas Day became firmly fixed on December 25. But for other branches of Christianity, including the Coptics and (most) Orthodox believers, Christmas is celebrated on January 7.
Western, American Santa wears a red suit and is a fat, jolly fellow while Eastern, Russian Santa wears a blue suit and is thinner with a very hot, younger wife.
But why is that?
At some point, the Orthodox church in Romania decided to modify their liturgical calendar. Today, Romanian Orthodox Christmas is always celebrated on December 25, but their other major holidays (including Easter) follow a different calendar that doesn’t match up with the Catholic/Protestant one.
The rest of the Orthodox world, including Moldova (which is under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch in Moscow), Christmas is always January 7.
The discrepancy between the two dates is due to obscenely boring arguments about the calendar.
Today, we think of “the” calendar as if there is just one, but it used to be that there were lots of different calendars.
Most importantly to our story, the Julian Calendar is the one that the Orthodox church uses to calculate dates while the Catholic/Protestant churches use the Gregorian calendar. The date on this article is determined by the Gregorian calendar, which was “inspired” by a Catholic pope in 1582.
The Julian calendar was invented by the legendary Roman emperor and general Julius Caesar, the same guy who fucked with our heads by renaming several of the months (including July for himself – thanks, Julian!).
Anyone who speaks Romanian or another Romance language can easily parse that “sept” = 7, “oct” = 8, “nov” = 9, and “dec/dek” = 10. September used to be the seventh month, October the eighth, and so on.
But then High and Mighty Caesar said, “Nope, we’re changing it all around.”
And so it was.
But in 1582, the High and Mighty Pope Gregory 13, or, more accurately, his team of highly trained mathematicians said that the tiny rate of error (just 0.0002%) in the Julian calendar meant that in “real time” we were now nearly two weeks offset.
Which meant that everybody had been celebrating holidays, including Easter (the important one!) on the wrong damn day.
Therefore, the Pope sliced off a fortnight from the calendar. European and then other countries around the world then synched their calendars to the (new) Gregorian one, Russia being one of the last places to do so.
So that explains why Orthodox Christmas is on January 7.
To them, it’s actually “really” December 25, according to their calendar. That’s why there’s also an Orthodox New Year a week later, on January 14, and so on and so forth.
The Romanian Orthodox Church clearly is fudging their authenticity a bit by selectively choosing to use the new calendar to calculate Christmas but the old one to calculate Easter.
What No One Ever Predicted
So far, I’ve told you nothing that you can’t learn from poking around Wikipedia a bit.
And for the past two years, I hadn’t really noticed anything special about the arrangements. I’m not an Orthodox believer, so their fussiness over calculating dates is just a quirky fact to me.
But this year, I realized that what neither the Julian/old faction nor the Gregorian/new faction ever guessed would happen is that with this mishmash of calendars, you get a situation where the end of the year comes before Christmas.
That’s right. If you’re a practicing Orthodox in Moldova (as are most of my in-laws), first you work until December 31, and then a week later, you get your Christmas.
Again, two teams of ultra-pedantic Christian priests never set out to design this, but it actually works out really well having your new year party first and then your Christmas.
What works even better, though, is the way we do it in my house.
Sam’s Recipe for the Perfect Double Christmas
First, we celebrate “Red Santa” Christmas on December 25, complete with a (modest!) exchange of presents, a spread of extremely delicious foods, some good drink, and my wife attending a church service. We both get a day off from work/school to spend some quality family time together.
But then, just like they do it in America, it’s back to work on December 26. But that’s okay because a) you just got a day off to really chill out, eat, and rest; and b) you’ve only got a short week ahead before a HUGE PARTY.
The year then ticks to an end, you drink your champagne, you do your dance, and everybody shouts as they count down the last few seconds. Fireworks (a shitload of fireworks in Moldova) are set off, and then everyone stumbles into bed at the crack of dawn.
You wake up on January 1, and it’s a holiday. Another day of complete rest in the warmth and comfort of your home.
The Sweetest Twist
But then, and here is the great twist, you then have just another short week (if you work, which many Moldovans don’t, but I did) before guess what? Another party! More fireworks! Blue Santa comes to town.
Jeez, it’s great. Two weeks, both with a day of rest, good food, and family time capped off by three parties.
This 2-Christmas system totally works better.
The Usual Slog
The American (and British, et al) system of a single Red Santa Christmas is far too stressful.
First, the Christmas “season” is a mad dash to get a ton of crap done in the “whopping” three weeks following Thanksgiving/Black Friday.
After stuffing your face with food, fun, and movies, you get to the magical day and orgasm with holiday cheer for a grand total of 24 hours.
You’re then back on the horse, clocking in a full schedule until the evening of December 31. You then get one night to go nuts (read = drunk af) and one day to recover before you’re right back in the harness.
The first few weeks of January are one dull, grey, miserable blur as you slug it out against your biological instinct to stay in bed, sleep more, and eat comfort foods.
And because you made resolutions NOT to do those things, you also feel guilty.
Magic Double Awesome Christmas
Meanwhile, here in Moldova, one of just SIX countries in the world with the Magic Double Awesome Christmas, you get a full week to gear up in January.
The coldest, shittiest days are when you DON’T have to go to work, and it snows way more often on Orthodox Christmas than it does on December 25.
I definitely recommend the 2-Christmas System.
Five stars out of five stars