Christmas in Russia
Orthodox Christmas in Russia is celebrated on January 7, and not on December 25, as is customary in many other countries. This discrepancy is due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church followes the Julian calendar, whereas most of the World has adopted the Gregorian one.
Christmas traditions had almost been completely lost during the Soviet era. The celebration of Christmas and New Years was banned by the Soviet government in 1927. It was not until 1936 that New Year’s celebration was restored. Nothing but New Years was celebrated in the times of USSR. It has been and still remains the biggest holiday for Russians.
Prior to the October revolution, Christmas celebrations had carried a notable religious overtone. They went on in a grand manner for a long period of time and were considered the most remarkable occasions of the year. The celebrations lasted for two weeks; starting with Christmas and ending with Epiphany. They were called Christmastide.
Orthodox Christmas rang the curtain up on January 6 with Christmas Eve which is the last day of the winter 40-day’s fast. It was customary not to eat food on Christmas Eve and in the evening, people went to church for night vigils and Divine Liturgy. The first meal was permitted only after the worship, approximately at 3 – 4 o’clock in the morning. Usually it was a Lenten fare “kollyva” (or “sochivo” – soaked grains) – a dish of cereal brewed with honey, walnuts and raisins. Early in the morning on January 7, time was ripe for Christmas; comprising open air celebrations, merry-making and lavish treats. A lot of meat courses were served on the table such as piglets in aspic or stuffed pigs. Also geese, turkey, baked ham and a big variety of pies, kvass and honey. The following Christmas weeks were celebrated with balls, masquerades, obligatory visits to relatives, street performances, snowy plays and sledding.
For the past 15 years the remainingChristmas traditions have been gradually restored through the efforts of churches, museums and government institutions. The churches hold all night services. Many museums and libraries open exhibitions devoted to Christmas. Theaters’ repertoire is enriched with Christmas performances. Furthermore, different fairs and sporting events are organized. You can witness noisy and exuberant street festivals througout all districts of St.Petersburg. The largest of them held in Peter and Paul Fortress, on Yelagin Island and in Pavlovsk’s open-air museum. The Christmas Market on Ostrovsky Square is what usually catches the fancy of Petersburgers. Traditionally it starts prior to the Catholic Christmas and finishes in mid-January. This year Christmas market will be arranged at the new location, on Pionerskaya square near Bryantsev Youth Theatre and it will have an ice-skating rink. The Christmas fair will open from 19 December until 12 January.
Translation by Evgenya Gavrilova
Edited by Joan Akatukunda