On November 15 begins the Nativity Fast which lasts until Christmas Eve. This Fast reminds to ready our hearts for celebrating the presence of the Lord born in Bethlehem (and prefigures out anticipation for the return of the risen Lord at Pascha). The secular world begins to prepare for Christmas earlier than we do in its celebration, so that Christmas becomes the last day of a month long celebration. However, the Byzantine tradition begins observing the coming of Christmas and saves its celebration for the Christmas season. Some ways to prepare during this time are reading and reflecting on scripture.
November 21: Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple. One of the Twelve Great Feasts, this is the feast which celebrates Mary’s entrusting to the Temple to be raised there, which signifies that even in her infancy she was sanctified and dwelt in the presence of God. This feast can be an especially appropriate one to celebrate daughters in one’s family.
December 4: Feast of Saint Barbara. This is a very popular feast day in the Middle East, with traditional foods associated. It is also customary to sing a popular folk song in honor of the saint.
December 6: Feast of St Nicholas. Due to his reputation for charity, this saint is associated with gift-giving and generosity (this is the origin of St Nicholas as a gift giver in both the East and the West). “Santa Claus” is a secularization of this famous bishop. A common gift to celebrate this feast is a small bag filled with foil-covered chocolate “coins.” This reminds us of St Nicholas’ generosity in providing dowries to poor girls in his community. You can prepare a packet of these treats at home and place them in front of an icon of the saint to be enjoyed after your meal prayers.
December 24: Christmas Eve. In our tradition, Christmas Eve is a strict fast day which culminates in the liturgy of St Basil (again similar to the preparation for Pascha). A good tradition to consider is completely all holiday preparations by December 23, so that the 24th can be a day of prayer, reflection, and participation in the services offered at the parish.
December 25: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christmas is the only one of our Great Feasts which originated in the West, and as a result the Western celebration is more elaborate than our own (customs like wreaths, caroling, crèches, etc pertaining to the Western celebration of Christmas, as do decorated trees). In the United States, many of our customs will be intertwined with more familiar “Western” celebration, but we can comfortably assert our own traditions amidst these, such as the use of icons rather than crèches.