Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas in Austria

Lifestyle & TravelMore+ ♦ Published: January 7, 2023; 22:04 ♦ (Vindobona)

Every year on January 6 and 7, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate Christmas. In the capital, Vienna and many other cities, especially Serbian and Russian Orthodox Christians, as well as Oriental Orthodox Christians, are currently celebrating Christmas.

An Orthodox Christmas decoration with a crib representing Christ's birth. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons; Boksi, CC BY 3.0

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas like the other Christian churches on December 24 or 25. But not all Orthodox churches are included in this. For countries like Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, January 6 is considered Christmas Eve and January 7 is Christmas.

The difference is that Catholic and Orthodox Christians use different calendars to celebrate the special day.

Probably the most prominent representations of Orthodox churches in Vienna belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church and Coptic Orthodox Church.

The focus is on being together with the family. People eat together, celebrate and attend Christmas Mass. And children of the Orthodox faith can also look forward to gift packages.

In addition, the Orthodox Church traditionally fasts during the 40 days before Christmas - there are no Christmas cookies, at least before Christmas. Orthodox Christians also abstain from meat and animal products, such as milk and eggs, during Lent.

Half a million Orthodox Christians in Austria

Exact figures have not been available since 2001. The total number of believers in the Orthodox churches in Austria is estimated at a good 500,000. This number has probably increased immensely due to the migration of Ukrainians.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Greek Orthodox) has about 35,000 believers, and the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has about 40,000.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has the most Orthodox believers in Austria, with about 350,000. The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church each have about 40,000 believers. The small congregation of the Patriarchate of Antioch is estimated at 1,000 believers. In addition, there are a similar number of believers from the Georgian Orthodox Church.

In addition to the (Byzantine) Orthodox churches, some Ancient Oriental Orthodox churches, which are strongly represented especially in Vienna, also celebrate Christmas around January 6/7. The Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches.

The Armenian Church, however, does not follow the Julian calendar, but (except for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem) has followed the Gregorian calendar for about 100 years. However, in the Armenian Church, the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is celebrated together with the Feast of the Epiphany therefore on January 6.

Not only Orthodox and Ancient Near Eastern Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6/7. An important Catholic church with the Julian calendar is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This has its center in Austria with the parish of St. Barbara in the Postgasse in the 1st district of Vienna. However, the situation is not uniform in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Austria. Some parishes celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar, others according to the Julian calendar.

A special feature of this Orthodox Christmas is the new Ukrainian-speaking parish in Vienna. This parish in Vienna, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis (Patriarchate of Constantinople), celebrates its holidays according to the Julian calendar. So the Viennese Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Arsenios (Kardamakis) celebrated a second Christmas with the Ukrainian-speaking community on January 6/7.