By David Luhrssen
After acknowledging Western Christmas with a party and caroling in December, St. John the Baptist Armenian Church of Greater Milwaukee celebrated Armenian Christmas with a traditional Christmas Eve liturgy on the evening of January 5 and a full observation of Christmas on January 9, the Sunday closest to January 6.
As Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian reminded listeners, January 6 was the date set aside by the early Christian church to commemorate the birth and baptism of Christ. In Western churches January 6 is still marked as Epiphany, the date on which the divinity of Christ was revealed during his baptism. The Armenian Church is alone in preserving the ancient custom of joining together the beginning of Christ’s physical life at the nativity and the start of his spiritual mission at his baptism in one commemoration.
Following the Christmas liturgy, the community was led in the Blessing of the Water service, the ceremonial reenactment of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Water from the ceremony was distributed to the faithful. Afterward, Fr. Nareg conducted a house blessing in St. John’s Cultural Hall before the community sat down together for a potluck lunch featuring many Armenian and American dishes.
As was said in the Sunday sermon, there is no Santa Claus at Armenian Christmas. Untainted by the commercialism surrounding Dec. 25 in contemporary culture, Armenian Christmas provides an opportunity to reflect on the spiritual meaning of the holiday.