Sometime in the 1880s, Greater Cleveland began a new holiday tradition – a “second” celebration of Christmas. As immigration from southern and eastern Europe increased, individuals of the Christian Orthodox faith arrived in the city. Their religious rites followed the Julian calendar (which was first adopted in 46 BC) whereas the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian Calendar which was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Protestant churches began to follow the Gregorian calendar in the early 1700s. By the time of the arrival of the early Orthodox immigrants in Cleveland, the two celebrations of the birth of Jesus were separated by well over a week.
As the Orthodox population grew, various national churches were established in Cleveland. The first two were St. Theodosius in 1894 (Russian) and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, established by fifteen Greek immigrants in 1912. These congregations continue today in magnificent structures in Cleveland’s Tremont area. Over the years they been joined by another twenty-eight Orthodox churches and two monasteries in the Greater Cleveland area.
Yet, today, not all of the Orthodox faith celebrate Christmas as per the Julian Calendar. In the early 1920s the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople decided that a revised Julian calendar (that matched the Gregorian calendar) should be followed for Christmas, but not for Easter. Yet, some national churches, the Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian and Egyptian Orthodox Copts, still follow the old Julian Calendar. However, Ukraine has also made Catholic Christmas a national holiday.
This year the Julian December 25th equates with the Gregorian January 7th and on that date, Cleveland will see a second celebration of Christmas. Our best wishes to all who will celebrate and continue the rich traditions of our diverse community.
(Photograph: St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox,1970s. WRHS Collection.)