All About Christmas in Russia
On the 7th of January people all over the world celebrate Orthodox Christmas. Catholics celebrate it on December 25th. Christmas in Russia is on a different day because we use the Julian calendar, while Catholics use the Gregorian one.
The earliest mentions of Christmas in Russia date back to the 10th century. Christmas has been widely celebrated in the country for hundreds of years: people will decorate the tree, prepare the dinner and buy gifts for family and friends. But after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power, all religious holidays had to be uprooted, and traditions had to be forgotten since they did not fit into the atheistic philosophy of the party. Those days are gone but anyway that’s the reason we didn’t preserve many Christmas traditions and we prefer to celebrate New Year with our families. But still, a lot of people remember about old traditions and try to save the history. We invite you to learn a bit more about our old Christmas traditions.
Russian Christmas also marked the end of the agricultural year. During the harvest, the head of the family chose the best sheaf of wheat and placed it under the icons, as a thankful gift to God for a good harvest. In the evening after the first star on the sky this sheaf was burned, symbolizing hope for the next harvest.
Nativity scenes, mummers and carols
The tradition of creating festive theaters, nativity scenes, came only at the beginning of the 19th century. For peasants, the theater was a curiosity, so they called the actors “mummers.” Nativity scenes were on the evening before Christmas in Russia and actors performed in squares or entered the houses. Their repertoire included scenes from the life of Jesus, other biblical subjects and stories. For appearances, actors were usually given food. Families specially baked cakes or prepared other treats to reward artists.
During the performance, they sang the songs – carols. The words of these songs almost completely corresponded to the Gospel texts, the music was folk. The essence of the ceremony was the same – to come to your neighbor or friend and to notify the good news with the song – the Birth of the Savior.
At all times, it was customary to buy the presents for close friends and family at Christmas in Russia. Jesus was born in a stable, in poverty and suffering. Three wise men or three kings from eastern countries came to visit him and brought him gold as a gift. That’s why we have a tradition of giving presents on this day.
Christmas fast till the first star
Christmas in Russia was preceded by the fast, the duration of which was about a month. At this time, it was impossible to consume junk food – meat, eggs, milk and other high-calorie foods. According to the old history, people saw a bright star after Jesus was born.
Lent table and rich table
Families are cooking twelve dishes for the religious celebration. Why exactly twelve? It’s because of the number of apostles at the Holy Supper. And it was also customary to remember the deceased relatives. We always leave cloves of garlic on the edges of the table and additional cutlery.
Christmas cuisines in Russia
The table must be rich and have a lot of dishes, because people fasted for 40 days before this holy day. Kutia is the main dish on the table. According to one version, kutia promised health and wealth if it’s lush, lenten bread, fragrant and good kutia, and a thin one meant a very unlucky year. According to another version, in the holy week, they ate kutia to treat the departed people. was a favorite sweet dish. People began and finished the dinner with kutia. There were many recipes, including poppy seeds, cereals, honey and butter. Now lots of people prefer to cook their favorite family meals, forgetting about kutia and making their own traditions. Nowadays usually Christmas dinner includes famous salad Shuba (Herring under the fur coat) and traditional Russian salad Olivier.
Divination and conspiracy as part of the story
What else did the young women do while Christmas day?
The answer is simple – they divined. Russian orthodox church categorically forbade fortune telling on this day, considering it a huge sin. Young girls divined at the grooms, married girls couldn’t do this, it was strictly prohibited. The girls tried to find out the names of their future husbands, the number of children and wealth in marriage. Fortune-telling was usually in the house or in the bathhouse, the girls had to be barefoot, fair-haired, in night shirts. They had to remove the pectoral cross, because fortune-telling was equated with big sin. Therefore, it was forbidden for men to attend this kind of nights. Another tradition was conspiracies. Many older women read conspiracies and asked to give their families health and wealth. Even now lots of girls are meeting to divine. Currently it’s not a tradition for them, but the way to have some fun with their friends.
Despite the peculiarities of the traditions among different people, at the present time, almost all of them are united by something common. This includes the tradition of giving gifts, and the presence of Ded Moroz (or Grandfather Frost, our analogue of Santa Claus), the Christmas trees. Now the main day for most Russians is New Year. It is still the main reason to throw a party for friends or for families.
We usually prepare a generous table of various Russian cuisine dishes. It is generally accepted that the more varied and richer the dishes, the more successful and satisfying the next year will be. People believe that if you make the most secret desire after the President’s speech when Moscow Kremlin clock strikes twelve times at midnight, it will come true in the coming year. After this, it is imperative to raise glasses with champagne and drink for a happy new year! Christmas, meanwhile, is a quiet holiday in the families. But we still remember our traditions and every year we meet the whole family in our house and share the Christmas dinner with them.