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Christmas in Russia


The biggest holiday in Russia is without a doubt New Year. Because of the 70 years of Bolsheviks forbidding religious practices, traditional Christmas holidays in Russia evolved into a New Year celebration, with attributes and characters similar to Christmas in other countries.

The role of Father Christmas was played by Dedushka Moroz or Grandfather Christmas.

There is another main figure in each Russian Christmas - the dauter of the Father Christmas, or Snegurochka. There's a children's play that is always part of Christmas celebration - when Dedushka Moroz comes to the house, he is often acts like he lost Snegurochka, and children have to call for her. Then she appears, brining christmas gifts.


In Russia the religious festival of Christmas is being replaced by the Festival of Winter but there are some traditions that are still kept up in some parts of the country. In the traditional Russian Christmas, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until January 6th Christmas Eve, when the first evening star in appears in the sky. Then begins a twelve course supper in honor of each of the twelve apostles - fish, beet soup or Borsch, cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit and much more.

Hay is spread on the floors and tables to encourage horse feed to grow in the coming year and people make clucking noises to encourage their hens to lay eggs.

On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches which have been decorated with the usual Christmas trees or Yelka, flowers and colored lights.

Christmas dinner includes a variety of different meats - goose and suckling pig are favorites.

Babushka is a traditional Christmas figure who distributes presents to children. Her name means grandmother and the legend is told that she declined to go with the wise men to see Jesus because of the cold weather. However, she regretted not going and set off to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents. She never found Jesus, and that is why she visits each house, leaving toys for good children.


Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on January 6, Christmas Eve. The church in Russia still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore their Christmas celebration is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that we use.

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful honey harvest.

For many Russians, a return to religion represents a return to their old roots and their old culture. Throughout Russia, after Christmas Eve services, people carrying candles, torches, and homemade lanterns parade around the church, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents did long ago. The Krestny Khod procession is led by the highest-ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church. After the procession completes its circle around the church, the congregation reenters and they sing several carols and hymns before going home for a late Christmas Eve dinner.

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