Five Traditions of Russian Christmas
While many people celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Russia marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Christian Orthodox tradition, and celebrates accordingly on January 7th. Let’s not forget that, in Soviet times, religious holidays were banned; that is why many Christmas traditions like decoration of the fir tree and giving presents turned into New Year’s traditions that are highly celebrated in Russia. However, nowadays, Christmas is regaining its popularity and religious meaning.
Christmas in Russia is all about family, not as much about gifts and Santa Claus’s arrival. Russian holiday tradition differs from western customs. ‘Ded Moroz’ or Father Frost (analog of Santa Claus) and his granddaughter ‘Snegurochka’ or Snow Maden visit on New Year’s Day, and they are the ones who bring the gifts! Celebrations carry on until Orthodox Christmas Day on January 7th. National vacations span from January 1st through 10th due to the proximity of the two holidays.
Russian Christmas entails many traditions and customs. For example, there is a 40-day lent preceding ‘Rojdestvo’ or Christmas Day. Lent period ends with the first star in the night sky on January 6th – a symbol of Jesus Christ’s birth and a signal for the start of Christmas dinner and the holy supper.
Christmas dinner begins with a prayer and food blessing, led by the eldest of the family. Each dish served represents one of the 12 apostles. Traditionally, the meal must be Lenten, which means without meat; but each family tends to tailor the meal to their own preferences.
There are many traditional dishes served for Russian Christmas. First dipped in honey to represent the “sweetness of life” and then in chopped garlic for the “bitterness of life”, Pagach or Lenten bread is one of them! The main dish during the holy supper is Sochivo (sometimes called Kutya), which is porridge that contains whole grains, honey and poppy seeds. The grains represent hope, while the honey and poppy seeds represent happiness and peace. Bobal’ki are traditional tiny biscuits accompanied by sauerkraut, honey and poppy seeds. And there is no table in Russia that won’t have popular Christmas food like fresh figs, apricots, oranges, dates and nuts as well. They are very popular and represent the prosperity of the family!
Another fun tradition, especially popular in the countryside, is “kolyadki” or Christmas carols. Traditionally, youth groups walk around neighboring houses on Christmas Eve, singing songs to congratulate people with the holidays. In return, homeowners thank the young singing kolyadki the best possible way. It is believed that the welfare of the family in the coming year depends on how generously they thank the singers.
Christmas Eve also marks the start of an old Slavic holiday, Svyatki, when young women use candles and a mirror to invoke the image of their future husbands. Fortune telling on Christmas Eve is quite popular in Russia, even though the church does not allow it!
Hope you enjoyed learning about some traditions of Russian Christmas. Merry Christmas or S Rojdestvom!