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Dual Yule : Armenian Custom Means 2 Observances and Is a Kid’s Delight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You could call Andrew Kazazian the luckiest kid around.

That’s because Santa Claus will visit the 4-year-old Glendale boy twice this holiday season.

He’ll come the first time on Dec. 25. Then he’ll come back on Jan. 6.

Like thousands of others living in the Los Angeles area, Andrew will celebrate Christmas two times--first on the traditional American day and later on the traditional Armenian day.

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For centuries, Armenians have observed Christmas on Jan. 6--the day Christ’s birth is said to have been revealed to the Magi, the three wise men.

Before AD 336, the birth was celebrated on Jan. 6 throughout the Christian world. But during the 4th Century, most churches followed Rome in switching the celebration to Dec. 25.

Armenia stuck with Jan. 6, however. In the villages, Armenians marked the day with feasting and the lighting of candles. Adults filled the handkerchiefs of delighted children with gifts of candy, fruit and small toys.

These days, many Armenians living in Los Angeles have blended tradition by worshiping and exchanging gifts both days.

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For kids, it adds up to twice the excitement. But the Christmas double-header can be difficult for adults, according to Armenian community leaders.

American-born Armenians usually favor a December celebration. But those who came to the United States during the past 12 years or so tend to prefer a January one.

That means that the Rev. Berdj Djambazian, senior pastor at the United Armenian Congregational Church in Hollywood, will preach Christmas sermons on different days for different sets of worshipers.

“We do celebrate as a Protestant church on the 25th. That’s our major Christmas service,” Djambazian said. “However, in order not to create conflict and upset the newcomers, we also do celebrate on the 6th of January.”

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His Hollywood church counts about 4,000 members. A branch Armenian Congregational Church that operates from a borrowed Presbyterian church sanctuary in Glendale attracts another 1,700, said Djambazian, who lives in Reseda.

Djambazian preaches in Armenian to his Glendale audience. He speaks in both English and Armenian to the Hollywood congregation, where special wireless earphones patterned after those used at the United Nations are available to worshipers who need English or Armenian translations.

The flood of newcomers has caused the Los Angeles-area Armenian population to leap from about 50,000 in the 1970s to about 350,000 today, according to Armenian leaders.

Three Armenian churches represented in the Los Angeles area--Apostolic, Catholic and Protestant--are cultural centers as well as houses of worship, according to community leaders. Of the three, the Apostolic Church is the largest. And its members are the most likely to observe a Jan. 6 Christmas.

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Bishop Yeprem Tabakian, dean of St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale, said families will feast on Christmas Eve--Jan. 5. After dining on traditional dishes of spinach, egg, fish and rice, gifts will be exchanged.

“We keep the tradition. But we live in a Christian country, so we celebrate twice. Some from our church, too, will exchange gifts on the 25th,” he said.

“The kids are impatient. They can’t wait. It’s very hard in this country, keeping the old traditions. So you see families celebrating on the 25th.”

Tabakian, who lives in Encino, smiled as 4-year-olds in the church’s preschool gathered next to a Christmas tree on Friday and sang in Armenian about Zmerbabi and Kaghandbaba.

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Those are Armenian names for Santa Claus, said school principal Ida Karayan. The first means “Winter Dad,” and the second refers to “New Year’s Father.”

Tabakian laughed when the children broke into a lively English version of “Frosty the Snowman.”

At recess a few minutes later, 4-year-old Andrew Kazazian interrupted his tricycle riding to talk about the holidays.

Andrew confided that he’s hoping to receive a Mousetrap game for one Christmas. He’s hoping Santa leaves him an Atari computer game for the other.

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