Thursday, January 7, 2010
A Coptic Christmas
Merry Christmas! In Coptic calendar terms, today is the 29th of Kiahk, but you can just say January 7th. We'll understand.
Several of the Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas after December 25th. The discrepancy in the date of Christmas is not (theo)logical. Most of the world was on the Julian calendar system til the 16th century. The average length of a year was 365.25 days. During that time, all the churches in the world celebrated Christmas on December 25th.
It was then discovered that the Julian calendar year was off by a bit because people had messed up the leap year system. The average length of the year should have been about 365.2422 days. You can read more about the technical details here. Over hundreds of years, this minuscule error meant that the world was days behind the actual date. Countries began using the new Gregorian calendar system by skipping ahead to the actual date.
I can only imagine how weird that skip must've been. In the 1700s, you'd skip ahead by 11 days. In the 1800s, it'd be by 12. For example, if it was October 10, 1701 and the jump happened, the next day would be October 22, 1701. If your birthday fell during that time, you were out of luck.
Despite knowledge of inaccuracy of the Julian calendar, many of the Orthodox churches refused to revise their calendars. Technically, they still celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December--in Julian world. In Gregorian and normal world, the date is now January 7th. When the year reaches 2100, the date of Christmas will be pushed back til the 8th.
Why don't Orthodox churches switch? I'm not really sure. Maybe it's to give further truth to the old Orthodox saying: We're so Orthodox, we don't change even if we're totally wrong because we like holding on to petty differences that distinguish us from other Apostolic churches so that Orthodox people don't get confused about what denomination they are a part of because they might realize that we're not so different from other churches and then switch to Catholicism because their masses are much shorter. Or maybe it's because high ranking Orthodox bishops are worried they're going to miss their birthdays. Or maybe there's a better reason that no one has been able to explain to me. In any case, Merry Christmas!
On a much sadder note, last night, 6 Copts were shot and killed as they were leaving a church after the Christmas Eve liturgy in Upper Egypt. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully tensions won't continue to rise and cause more death and destruction.