Orthodox christmas file-1672986156132
Children sing Christmas songs at the Coptic St. Mina Jebel Ali Church in Dubai in this file photo. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Orthodox Christians in the UAE will celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Saturday (January 7, 2023) with a joyful celebration in the company of family and friends, marked by traditional festive dishes and cultural shows.

“Food plays a central role in Orthodox Christmas celebrations,” Egor Sharay, a Russian expat and media personality, told Gulf News.

Egor Sharay 01-1672986139734
Egor Sharay: “With the growing Russian-speaking expatriate community, there are many restaurants in Dubai inviting guests to enjoy Orthodox Christmas with an extensive selection of Russian dishes, including a range of delicacies such as buckwheat with mushroom, cabbage pie, beef cutlets, pasta with minced beef, and pelmeni dumplings."

Sharay explained that unlike the widely-known date of December 25, Christmas is celebrated every January 7 by Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe and the Coptic Christians in Egypt as they follow the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar observed by the West.

Christmas on January 7

“Christmas for us falls on January 7 every year, while New Year is on January 14, according to the Julian calendar. Orthodox Christmas is a holiday celebrated by approximately 260 million people worldwide, including in Eastern European countries with majority Orthodox populations such as Russia, Georgia, Serbia, North Macedonia, as well as communities in Ethiopia and Egypt,” Sharay, who is also a cultural analyst and art consultant.

Thanks to the UAE’s multiculturalism and culture of tolerance, different expat communities in the country enjoy their respective holidays, said Sharay, adding: “This is one of the pillars that make the country a preferred place for expatriates to live in.”

Cultural events, concerts

Several cultural events and concerts are lined up to mark to festive occasion in Dubai.

Sharay said Welsh superstar Sir Tom Jones is returning to the city to perform at Burj Al Arab’s Great Gala Night concert on January 6, while famous Russian singer Valeriy Meladze will sing live at Zor Restaurant at The Pointe, Palm Jumeirah also on Orthodox Christmas Eve (January 6).

A Thousand Fairy Tales ballet world premiere by Sammit Event Group will take place at Dubai Opera’s stage and Sleeping Beauty ice skating show will be showcased at Coca-Cola Arena on January 6 and 7.

Natalya Andakulova, art historian, gallerist and owner of Andakulova Gallery, said there is an art exhibition by leading Uzbek artist Timur D’Vatz titled Reawakening. It will happen alongside a series of lectures about arts inspired by ancient history, medieval tapestries and Celtic mythology.

Natalya Andakulova 02-1672986148929
Natalya Andakulova: “Dubai is one of the world’s most liveable cities and a hugely popular destination for expats and families. We are happy to celebrate Christmas and New Year in the city."

Family holiday

Long-time Dubai resident Olga Gafurova, editor of Aviamost Russian Magazine, said “Christmas is a family holiday”.

Her house is decked up with festive decorations. “We celebrate Christmas by having a family dinner.” She added: “This year, we are going to celebrate Christmas at home with my husband’s family and friends.”

Olga Gafurova-1672986151536
Olga Gafurova: “Christmas is a family holiday”.

There will be traditional Russian festive dishes such as stuffed capsicum and cabbage, potato dumplings, Mimosa salad, eggplant with vegetables and lots of greens.

“I am also going to bake honey cake for this joyful occasion.”

“On January 6, we might go to St. Philip the Apostle Russian Orthodox Church in Sharjah to attend Christmas liturgy, marking the end of Lenten period and anticipating the first star in the night sky – a symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ,” Gafurova continued.

Prayers and greetings

For Christians, celebrating Christmas is centred on the birth of Jesus. Fr. Mina Hanna, priest at Saint Mina’s Coptic Church Jebel Ali, said: “I send my prayers and hearty Christmas greetings to everyone. As we gather this Saturday to celebrate Christmas, may we have the gift of faith, the blessing of hope, peace and love at Christmas and always. May God grant us peace, joy and goodwill.”

Fr Mina Hanna-1672986144940

Fact file: Christmas in January

The Julian calendar (introduced in 45 BC by Julius Caesar) actually pre-dates the Gregorian calendar used by the Christian majority. The change happened in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII ruled that the Catholic Church should follow a new calendar – called the Gregorian calendar, as the solar calendar was deemed more accurate than the Julian calendar.

At that time, 10 days were removed when the switch to the Gregorian Calendar happened. Some countries switched much later and more days were deleted. In Russia, when the Bolsheviks decided to switch to the Gregorian from the Julian calendar in 1918, 13 days were dropped from February that year.

The Orthodox Church, however, still followed the Julian calendar to celebrate Christmas and New Year, which fall on January 7 and 14 respectively in the Gregorian calendar.