In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated much. New year was made at the important moment.
After the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday in 1929 and Christmas trees were banned until 1935 when they became “New Year” trees. If people wanted to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it secretly only in their families.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it is still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations. The New Year is the great time to spend a lot of money and eat and drink a lot. Christmas is much more religious and private.
The New Year is also when ‘Grandfather Frost’ (known in Russian as ‘Ded Moroz’ or Дед Мороз) brings gifts to children. He is always accompanied by his granddaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year’s Eve, the children shake hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When the stars appear and other lights on the Christmas tree are illuminated! Ded Moroz carries a large magic cane. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is ‘S Novym Godom’.
Christmas in Russia is normally celebrated on January 7 (only a few Catholics could celebrate it on December 25). The date is different because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old “Julian” calendar for the days of religious celebration. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, from November 28 to January 6, so it lasts 40 days.
The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31 to January 10.
In Russian Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘s rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM’ (C рождеством!) Or ‘s-schah-st-lee-vah rah-z-of-st-vah’ (Счастливого рождества!) .
Some people fast (eat nothing) on Christmas Eve, until the first star appears in the sky. People then eat ‘sochivo’ or ‘kutia’, a porridge made of wheat or rice that is served with honey, poppy seeds, fruits (especially berries and dried fruits such as raisins), chopped nuts or, sometimes, even jellies. fruits.
Kutia sometimes eats from a common bowl, this symbolizes unity. In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of soap on the ceiling. If you hit the roof, some people thought that would mean they would have good luck and have a good harvest!
The Russian word for Christmas Eve “sochelnik” comes from the word “sochivo”.
Some Russian Orthodox Christians also do not eat meat or fish during the Christmas Eve dinner / banquet.
Other popular Christmas Eve meals include borsch or vegetarian food (solyanka) served with individual vegetable cakes (often made with cabbage, potatoes or mushrooms); Sauerkraut, oatmeal dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms, salads often made from vegetables such as pickles, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato salads or other root vegetables. The food often consists of 12 plates, representing the 12 disciples of Jesus.
‘Vzvar’ (meaning ‘to boil’) is often served at the end of the meal. It is a sweet drink made of dried fruits and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
After the meal, prayers can be said and people then go to church services at midnight. They often do not wash dishes until they get home from the Church, sometimes not until 4:00 or 5:00!
The main meal on Christmas day is often more a banquet with dishes like roasted pork and goose, Pirog and Pelmeni (meat dumplings). The dessert is often things like fruit cakes, gingerbread and honey bread cookies (called Pryaniki) and fresh and dried fruits and more nuts.
There are Russian Christmas cookies called Kozulya that are made in the form of sheep, goat or deer.
In some areas, children will sing carols in the homes of friends and family and wish people a happy new year. They are usually rewarded with cookies, sweets and money.
For people in Western Europe and the United States, one of the most famous things about Christmas in Russia is the story of Babushka. Babushka means grandmother in Russian. Tells the story of an old woman who met the Magi on her way to see Jesus.
However, most people in Russia have NEVER heard of the story, since it was probably created by an American poet and writer named Edith Matilda Thomas in 1907! I have received many emails from Russian visitors who had never heard the story before!
The story of Babushka
Once in a small Russian city, there lived a woman named Babushka. Babushka always had work to sweep, polish, dust and clean. His house was the best preserved, the most orderly of the whole town. His garden was beautiful and his kitchen was wonderful. One night she was busy dusting and cleaning, so busy that she did not listen to all the villagers who were outside in the town square talking and looking at the new star in the sky.
She had heard about the new star but thought: “All this fuss over a star! I do not even have time to look because I’m so late with my work, I have to work all night!” Then, she missed the star, since it shone brightly, high up. I also missed the small line of blinking lights that went down to the town at dawn. She did not hear the sounds of pipes and drums. He missed the voices and the whispers of the villagers wondering if the lights were an army or a procession of some kind. He missed the sudden silence of the villagers and even the steps that went up the path to his door. But the only thing he could not lose was the loud knocking on the door of his house!
“Now what is that?” he asked himself, opening the door. Babushka gasped in amazement. There were three kings at his door with one of his servants! “My masters need a place to rest,” said the servant, “and yours is the best house in town.” “Would you like to stay here?” Babushka asked. “Yes, it would only be until nightfall and the star appears again.” The servant replied. Babushka swallowed. “Come in, then.” she said.
The kings were very pleased when they saw all the homemade bread, cakes and pies. He ran around, serving them, asking many questions. “Have you come a long way?” “A very long way”. Caspar sighed. “Where are you going?” “We are following the new star.” said Melchior. “But where?” The kings did not know, but they believed that it would take a newborn king, a King of Earth and Heaven. “Why do not you come with us?” Baltasar asked. “You could bring her a gift like us, I bring gold, and my colleagues bring spices and perfumes.”
“Oh, I’m not sure he would welcome me,” Babushka said, “and what could I bring as a gift? Toys! I know I can bring a toy, I have a closet full of toys.” she said sadly “My little boy died when he was little”. Balthasar stopped her when she went to order the kitchen. “This new king could also be your king, come with us when the star appears tonight.” he said. “I’ll think about it.” sighed Babushka.
While the kings slept, Babushka ordered as quietly as he could. “How much extra work there was!” he thought: “and this new king, what a funny idea, to go with the kings to find him.”
Babushka shook himself. There was no time to dream, all this washing and keeping had to be done. “Anyway,” he thought, “how long would it be far away? What would he wear? What about the gift?” She sighed. “There’s a lot to do, the house will have to be cleaned when they’re gone, I could not just leave it.” Suddenly it was night again and the star was in heaven. “Are you ready, Babushka?” Baltasar asked. “I will come tomorrow,” said Babushka, “first I must order here and find a gift.”
The kings left sadly. Babushka ran back to his house, wanting to continue with his work.
Finally, he went to the little closet, opened the door and looked at all the toys. But they were very dusty. They were not fit for a baby king. All would have to be cleaned. She cleaned all the toys until each one shines. Babushka looked out the window. It was morning! The star had come and gone. The kings would have found another place to rest. She could easily catch them, but she felt so tired. She had to sleep The next thing she knew was that she was awake and it was dark outside. He had slept all day! He quickly put on his cloak, packed the toys in a basket and ran down the path the kings had taken.
Everywhere he asked “Have you seen the kings?” “Oh, yes,” they all said, “we saw them. For a day, Babushka followed the trail of the kings and the towns grew larger and became cities. But Babushka never stopped. Then she came to a city. “The palace,” he thought. “That’s where the real baby would be born.” “No, there is not a real baby here,” the palace guard said when she asked him. “What about the three kings?” Babushka asked. “Oh, yes, they came here, but they did not stay long, they were soon on their trip.” “But where?” Babushka asked. “Bethlehem, that was the place, I can not imagine why, it’s a very poor place, but that’s where they went.” The guard replied. She went to Bethlehem.
It was night when Babushka arrived in Bethlehem and she had been traveling for a long time. He entered the local inn and asked for the kings. “Oh, yes,” said the owner, “the kings were here two days ago, they were very excited, but they did not even stay overnight.” “And what about a baby?” Babushka cried. “Yes, there was.” The owner said. “The kings also asked for a baby.” When he saw the disappointment in Babushka’s eyes, he stopped. “If you would like to see where the baby was,” he said quickly, “I was on the other side of the yard, I could not offer the couple anything better at that time, my inn was really full, so they had to go to the barn.”
Babushka followed him through the courtyard. “Here is the barn.” he said. He left her in the barn. “Babushka?” Someone was calling from the door. He looked at her kindly. He wondered if he knew where the family had gone. Now I knew that the baby king was the most important thing to her in the world. “They have gone to Egypt, and security,” he told Babushka. “And the kings have returned to their countries, but one of them told me about you, I’m sorry, but you’re too late, it was Jesus who they found, the Savior of the world.”
Babushka was very sad for having missed Jesus and it is said that Babushka is still looking for him.