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Christina Sheleheda: What it's like celebrating Orthodox Christmas

| Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, 4:15 p.m.
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side will celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, 2018.
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side will celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, 2018.
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side will celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, 2018.
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church
St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side will celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, 2018.

For those who read my work, know me outside of work or follow me on social media, you are aware that I am half-Greek and half-Serbian.

I am a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Ambridge and grew up participating in many of the traditions mentioned in the story.

My mother and father are first-generation Americans, with both sets of my grandparents immigrating to the Pittsburgh area. My mother is Greek-American, growing up in Ambridge, and my father is Serbian/Slovak-American, growing up in Hopewell.

Both of my parents are Orthodox Christians; my sister, our husbands and our children all worship in the Orthodox church.

When my parents married, they lived in Ambridge, so they raised us in the Greek Orthodox church, which celebrates Christmas on Dec. 25.

My mom always celebrated “Serbian Christmas” for my dad, though. That usually meant preparing stuffed cabbage, pork and sauerkraut, and filling our stockings with smaller gifts. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world because I got two Christmases.

Easter is another holiday I am lucky enough to celebrate twice.

Since the Greek Orthodox still celebrate Easter under the Julian calendar, I only recently began celebrating that holiday twice since my husband was raised Byzantine Catholic.

Speaking of my husband and Byzantine Catholicism, my half-Ukrainian and half-Italian husband grew up celebrating Christmas Eve identical to both Rev. Urban and Rev. Soroka – meatless entrees, opening gifts and attending church. Even though my husband has always celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25, the cultural traditions are the same.

When we had our son Nico in 2013, I felt compelled to expose him to every single tradition we grew up practicing. So, our holidays are extremely busy and I usually don't have time to breathe between Dec. 24 and Jan. 14, but my heart is extremely full.

Like many other families in the Pittsburgh area, our religious practices are emphasized by our rich cultures and ethnic traditions, and we are blessed to be able to share that with our son in hopes he will share them with his future family.

So, whatever religion you follow, whatever your ethnic background might be, remember this: there is beauty in difference. And when we take a close look at our differences, we find out that we really aren't that different from one another.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate on Jan. 7.

Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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