Christians around the world gather to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ with some traditions that are foreign to us, and others that are surprisingly familiar. OCMC Missionaries to Albania, Fr. Stephanos and Presbytera Alexandria Ritsi, along with their two children love the wonderful tradition of kolandra, in which the youth and young adults go door-to-door with nativity scenes, singing Christmas carols. This is a great opportunity for young people to visit shut-ins and nursing homes, as well as for the faithful to see the youth and offer them hospitality. Although the in-person kolandra won’t be possible this year, they will invite the young people to sing their Christmas carols in video, so they can do their kolandra virtually!
In South Korea, OCMC missionaries Father Chris and Matushka Jen Moore are fortunate enough to live in a place that marks Christmas as a national holiday! While schools don’t have a long Christmas break between semesters - the way they often do in the US – most people have the day off for Christmas and are able to celebrate it with their families. Matushka Jen fondly recalls the singing of Christmas carols at the church following services and especially hearing “Silent Night” in English, Greek, and Korean, and remarked on how wonderful it is that some hymns are so ubiquitous. In South Korea the services will occur on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Anastasia Pamela Barksdale, another one of our missionaries in Albania, has always looked forward to celebrating Christmas there. In spite of the COVID pandemic the city is adorned with Christmas lights and decorations, the Church community still does projects for the poor and homeless, and they celebrate the Divine Liturgy together. They must take appropriate precautions, however, which means they cannot visit prisons as they normally do and must leave their gifts at the door. When they celebrate the Divine Liturgy, they must stand at a safe distance, and cannot exchange the kiss of peace.
The Orthodox in Albania also traditionally celebrate a sunrise Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning, after which they host receptions for the Orthodox faithful, leaders of other faiths, and government officials, where they can all exchange greetings in celebration of the Nativity of Christ. This year, while they will fortunately still be able to celebrate the sunrise Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox churches will not be able to invite all those people to gather in receptions afterwards. “Christmas is still very special,” Anastasia reflects, “and we wait to return to the warm and loving traditions that have brought us together as a Christian community, with hope, with patience, and with love.”
As we celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, let us pray also for our Orthodox brothers and sisters doing the same around the world. Although we are forced to stay more isolated than we might like, it can be a consolation to know that Orthodox faithful everywhere are in the same situation and are praying for and with us, as well. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!