This reflection written by John Glenn Middle School Principal Jonathon Hartunian originally appeared in the Superintendent’s Update by Superintendent Cliff Chuang on Friday, Jan. 5. Please find this week’s full issue of Superintendent’s Update and back issues at bedfordps.org.
By Jonathan Hartunian, JGMS Principal
My great grandparents on my mother’s side and grandparents on my father’s side survived the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century. They were forced to flee their homeland in what is now modern-day Turkey, and immigrated to the United States, eventually settled in the Boston area.
As immigrants, they were thankful for their freedom and the opportunities they now had. While they never forgot their Armenian roots and did much to preserve them, they fully embraced their new American life, culture, language, and norms.
My parents also worked hard to teach my older brother, younger sister, and I about our Armenian background. We attended the First Armenian Church in Belmont where my grandfather and Armenian Genocide Survivor Vartan Hartunian served as their minister for more than 40 years. At church, we learned about our history, culture, religion, and that Jan. 6 was “Armenian Christmas,” the day of Jesus Christ’s birth.
As American Armenians, my family always celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25. Santa Claus, or as Armenians say, Gaghant Baba, filled our stockings and gift giving/receiving always happened on Dec. 25. Armenian Christmas was a time to recognize our Armenian heritage and celebrate that our people and culture are still thriving despite the persecution and genocide committed against Armenians throughout our history.
We celebrated Armenian Christmas by getting together with family and eating our favorite Armenian food such as lamejun (Armenian Pizza), choreg (sweet bread with sesame seeds), dolma (vegetables stuffed with meat and rice), yalanchi (rolled grape leaves with rice stuffing), lavash (Armenian flatbread cooked in a fire pit), losh kebab (spicy barbecued Armenian beef and lamb), bedegs (cheeses wrapped in phyllo dough), and buttery rice pilaf. We also indulged in our favorite Armenian desserts. Mine is kadayif which is a rich, sweet cream surrounded by shredded phyllo dough and sweetened with syrup.
As a child, I didn’t speak of Armenian Christmas outside of home and church. It felt strange to have what some perceived as an additional and “different Christmas” because many of my peers had never heard of such a thing. It is refreshing that now we celebrate our diverse experiences in a way that allows each of us to be proud of who we are, where we came from, and to help educate others about our culture and traditions.
For the Hartunian family, Armenian Christmas is a day of cultural reflection and celebration. With my family, I enjoy continuing past family traditions as well as reaching out to my Armenian family, friends, and colleagues and wishing them a Merry Christmas every January 6th!