COSTA MESA — First it was the hymns and melodies depicting Jesus' birth, then it was the incense that led parishioners toward St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church on Thursday.
They were there to celebrate Christmas.
Armenian Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Christmas on Jan. 6 since Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301, said Pastor Moushegh Tashjian, the church's archpriest reverend.
Dressed in a long white robe, Tashjian led the 10:30 a.m. service, while worshipers continued to arrive from throughout Orange County and the rest of Southern California.
For the Armenian community celebrating Christmas in the United States, there's no better time to reflect on the revelation of Jesus, Tashjian said.
"You get that different feeling," he said. "For us, it gives all of us time to truly focus on the miracle of Jesus Christ. In January, everything is behind us and we can focus on the miracle of God becoming man in Jesus."
During an interview Wednesday, which was Christmas Eve for the church, Tashjian recalled his childhood memories of Christmas in Lebanon, where he was born and raised.
"I remember my grandmother preparing the baked meals and the place was so busy, I remember that vividly," he said.
Tashjian also reflected on his time of studies in Jerusalem and Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
"It's so biblical, the same buildings are there, the same houses and everything looks so ancient," he said.
Mariya Barin and her family are active members of the church. The Irvine resident and her daughter, Gassia, 12, were among the first at the church Thursday. Barin's two sons, Shant and Sayat, were taking part of the ceremony with Tashjian.
"We're trying to teach your children our traditions, that's why they didn't go to school today, because it's a special day for us — the day of the birth of Jesus Christ," Barin said.
After the ceremony, the worshipers greeted one another, then shared traditional Armenian dishes together.