GLENDALE : 2,000 Crowd Into St. Mary’s for Armenian Christmas Rites

Most people have already taken down their Christmas lights, recycled their trees and returned gifts that didn’t fit their bodies or their tastes.

But for Armenians here and throughout the world, Christmas just arrived Friday.

At St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale, one of the largest Armenian congregations in the country, nearly 2,000 worshipers stopped by for at least part of the nearly four-hour service.

The church can only seat about 900 people, but toward the end of the service, nearly as many people were lingering in the parking lot as in the crowded sanctuary. Others simply arrived to light a candle and say a prayer for a loved one, and then left.


Prior to the 4th Century, the earliest Christian churches observed Christmas on Jan. 6, the day the birth of Jesus is said to have been revealed to the three wise men, as well as the day Jesus is said to have been baptized on his 30th birthday.

Most Western Christian churches followed Rome in A.D. 336 in switching the celebration to Dec. 25 to compete with pagan and other religious holidays.

Latinos here and in Latin America celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, but also celebrate Jan. 6 as Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Day of Three Wise Kings.

While many Armenians in the U. S. also celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, Jan. 6 is considered the true traditional religious observance. The service is similar in its rituals and pageantry to Catholic services.


With the sun shining through large stained-glass windows, Bishop Yeprem Tabakian, dressed in a gold robe, officiated the service.

At one point during the ceremony, a procession walked through the aisles of the church, with a priest extending his blessing and parishioners crowding to touch a gold crucifix or kiss a holy cloth.

Ann Sarkissian of La Crescenta attended the service with her two daughters, Nairy, 18, and Ida Daugherty, 28. Daugherty explained that attending church and celebrating Christmas on Jan. 6 is an important part of maintaining their tradition and culture here.

“We didn’t necessarily understand it all when we were younger and going to church, but now that we’re older we understand that it is important to maintain the tradition,” Daugherty said as her mother nodded approvingly.


Nareg Ter-Hovsepian and his buddies Edward Vartanian and Arthur Stepanian, all 16-year-olds from Glendale, also attended the service. They said their parents did not force them to go to church Friday, nor do they think it’s corny or simply for adults.

“It’s part of our tradition,” Ter-Hovsepian said.