BETHLEHEM, West Bank – The 200 million Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, Russia and other Eastern Orthodox churches celebrated Christmas Eve on Jan. 6, following the old Julian calendar instead of the 16th century Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholics and Protestants worldwide.
For the Eastern Orthodox Christians, Christmas falls on Jan. 7 while other Orthodox Christians, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew — the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox — and the Greek church in Greece and the Americas, celebrated the holiday on Dec. 25.
Children donned Santa costumes and Boy Scouts played bagpipes Tuesday as Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas Eve at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Eireneos I, dressed in a red cape with gold embroidery, was kissed and hugged by Bethlehem officials and greeted by a large crowd of residents as he made his way to the Church of the Nativity, escorted by police. The bearded patriarch lifted a large gold cross to a woman who kissed it before he stooped to enter the small doorway of the stone Church of the Nativity. Inside, children lit candles and priests waved lamps filled with incense.
In the Israeli city of Ramle, Orthodox residents baked cakes and delivered presents to Santa Claus actors, who were to visit homes to deliver the gifts to children. In Russia, Orthodox believers lit candles and clerics led services Tuesday at churches across the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin extended his best wishes to everyone marking Christmas, which he called "a joyous and holy holiday that fills people's hearts with faith, hope, love and kindness."
"The activities of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian faiths traditional for our country contribute to the promotion of moral values in society," Putin said, according to the Kremlin. "Russian citizens have deep respect for this important work."