CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER EVE (KHTOUM)
The two greatest tabernacle feasts of the Armenian Church are Christmas (Theophany) and Easter. On the evening immediately preceding each of these two feasts, the Church conducts special pre-feast services (nakhadonag).
These two evening services have an Armenian name, “Khtoum,” meaning “to end the abstinence.”
For Theophany, on January 6, khtoum is always on January 5. For Easter, it will occur on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday.
The religious services of khtoum take place after sundown, with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy. These evening services are very popular. Large numbers of faithful attend church for these services.
In a religious and liturgical sense, immediately after those services it is already the feast day itself, and for Theophany the choir chants “Christ is born and revealed.”
After that, in old-world practice, happy faithful travel to the homes of parishioners until late into the night and sing soul-stirring songs. This has been a very popular practice for our people. Families waited eagerly for the arrival of these singing groups, opening their doors wide to receive them, entertaining them with refreshments, and encouraging them with gifts for their laudable action.
The service of khtoum is also called “Jrakalouyts” (meaning “lit up”), because it was, and still is, the custom for the faithful in attendance to carry lit candles. It was also custom to leave a lamp lit in homes so that “the magi bearing the good news (avedis) of the Holy Birth might visit and take gifts and food to the poor.”
It should be noted that the customs and practices concerning khtoum have more of an Armenian quality to them. For centuries on end, the mysterious and soul-stirring ritual has filled the souls of Armenians with sentimental and joyous feelings. During the days of the khtoum services our newspapers and literary journals have published noteworthy articles on its significance. Pupils of Armenian Apostolic Church schools, as has become tradition, go to church and in a special ceremony receive Holy Communion.
A very meaningful hymn for this religious feast was written by the Armenian Catholicos-Patriarch Movses the Poet in 441. Its opening words are “Khorhourt medz yev skancheli …” A translation may be rendered as follows …
A great and marvelous mystery is revealed on this day; The shepherds sing with the angels,
And bring good tidings to the world.
A new king was born in the city of Bethlehem, 0 sons of man, praise Him,
For He has for us become flesh,
The boundless One of heaven and earth was bound in swaddling clothes.
Without leaving the Father, He lay in the Holy Manger.
A CHRISTMAS HYMN
The popular hymn of the Feast of the Nativity, “Aysor Don E Sourp Dzununtyan, Avedis” may be rendered in translation as follows …
Today is the Feast of the Holy Birth. Glad tidings.
Of our Lord, and of His Revelation. Glad tidings.
Today the Son of Righteousness. Glad tidings.
Has appeared among men. Glad tidings.
Today the angels of heaven descended. Glad tidings.
And with us praised the immortal King. Glad tidings.
Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993