Despite the entire country being blanketed by snow, Russia celebrates Christmas with great festivities. Just like other Eastern Orthodox countries, Russia celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. Being suppressed by the communist government for a long period, Christmas, just like other religious festivals, did not have any special importance in Russia for years. Christmas was in fact replaced by the "Festival of Winter" in those times. People were also proud to be known as atheists and a majority of them didn't care much to celebrate Christmas. However, the custom of observing Christmas has been revived since 1992 and is now increasingly becoming popular year by year. Russian Christmas celebrations are slightly different from other countries, although the core of the celebration, the jubilation, remains the same. Russians also happen to have unique legends and rituals regarding Christmas, which are, in their way, quite special. Read on to know more about Christmas celebrations in Russia.
Christmas Traditions In Russia
In Russia, people observe fasts during Christmas and the number of days of fasting varies from person to person. Some fast for 30 days whereas some observe this for 40 days. The fasting, however, ends on January 6th, on the Feast Day with the appearance of the first evening star. Several long prayer sessions, royal hours and vespers take place in churches. All-night vigil takes place which is followed by "Devine Liturgy of the Nativity" on the Christmas-day morning.
People decorate their houses and gardens with lights and Christmas ornaments. Christmas trees are called "Yelka" which are also nicely decorated with ornaments, flowers and lights. Hymns and carols form an inevitable part of Russian Christmas celebrations and the trees are taken down on the day of Baptism.
Russian Christmas feast is very special because of the number of dishes. It is a 12 course dinner with one course each for 12 apostles. The menu includes fish, beet soup, stuffed cabbage, dry fruits and other delicacies. Members of the family gather around the table and pay reverence to the son of God. The tablecloth used is traditionally white and symbolizes the swaddling cloth of infant Jesus and also the poverty of the place where he is believed to have taken birth. A candle placed at the middle of the table symbolizes that "Christ is the light of the world". Special lantern bread called "pagach" is also placed on the table symbolizing that "Christ is the bread of life".
Christmas feast of the Eastern Orthodox Christians (Lenten meal) is different as it is devoid of all meat and dairy products. "Kutya", a special porridge made of wheat berries, is the most important dish of the Christmas feast. The components of the feast symbolize certain things. While wheat berries stands for hope and immortality, honey and poppy seeds represent happiness and success.
Russian Santa is popularly known as Grandfather Frost and, as in every other case, he brings gifts to children on this holy occasion. According to Russian belief, Santa comes with his granddaughter "Snowmaiden". Russia is famous for its hand-carved Santa, which is traditionally made with Linden wood.
Read about Christmas and its traditions in Russia and Russian Christmas customs.
Christmas In Russia
- According to legend, Baboushka, the old woman who set out to visit Baby Jesus with some gifts, still visits each house during Christmas and leaves gifts for good children.
- Svyatki is Russian Christmas tide which lasts till January 19, the day on which Epiphany is celebrated. Pagan traditions of fortune telling and caroling prevail during this period.
Russian Christmas celebration is still in a phase of increasing popularity as it was long suppressed under the strong communist rule. Atheism was another factor that prevented many Russians from being a part of this festival. However, the winds of change are making this a popular celebration in the country.