As of 1917, the Bolsheviks banned Christmas celebrations, and the Russian Christmas soon gave way to Festival of Winter and the New Year was the celebration. The tree decorations and the presents were now a symbol of the New Year. Since most of the Christians occupying Russia were Orthodox, they followed the Advent calendar, only their rendition was 40 days as opposed to the more traditional 24 days. Advent begins on the 28th of November and runs until the 7th of January, which is the date that Orthodox Russian Christmas celebrate Christmas. The small handful of Catholics in the country celebrate on the traditional 25th of December. The Orthodox use the old Julian Calendar as their guide to the dates for holidays.
Russian Christmas starts on the 31st of December and goes until the 10th of January. This is the time that the entire country celebrates the holidays with parties, food, gifting, fasting and celebrations. Those who fast can start as many as 39 days prior to Christmas Eve (January 6th), and they continue the fast until the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve. Then there are meals of hot porridge (sochivo) filled with fruits and berries. It can also include walnuts, grapes, poppy seeds and honey. The porridge is served in a common bowl. There can also be porridge tossing, which is a spoonful is thrown up to the ceiling and if it sticks, you will have good luck. If it doesn’t, someone is on the cleaning committee.
Rice and wheat porridges make up the end of the fasting.
The end of the fast is celebrated with the commencement of a 12 course meal. The courses in this meal are representative of the apostles, and the meal consists of fish, vegetables and dried fruits. It does not contain meat. They are really big on sauerkraut in Russia, and along with mushrooms, potatoes and beet root soup, the meal is a vegetarian delight. Dessert on the other hand consists of gingerbread, honeybread cookies and fruit pies. A cup of Vzvar is a welcome addition to the table. This drink is boiled fruit and honey that makes a sweet drink. The Vzvar means boil up, but the traditional meaning is the baby Jesus.
The traditional use of a white tablecloth and hay on the floor symbolizes the manager and Jesus’ birth.
After the meal, everyone heads off to church services. Dishes do not get washed until they return from the services, even if it is 5 a.m.
Around this time, Father Frost shows up for all the kiddies. He is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka. The children traditionally stand around the Christmas tree holding hands and calling for Father Frost and Snegurochka to appear. Magically, the tree lights up and there they are!
The most traditional gift delivering figure of the Russian traditions is the grandmotherly Babushka. It is said that she was visited by the Wise Men who were looking for directions that would take them to Jesus. She declined to accompany them on their journey, so now, out of regret, she wanders around bringing gifts to all the children because she neglected to take gifts to Jesus.
Babushka sends kisses to all the boys and girls
The Russians love their decorated trees, and the sight this tree filled with lights in Moscow’s Red Square is a beautiful sight.
Maybe you can find something here that you can be Putin on your Christmas list.
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Kiss Babushka good-bye, dress warm and let’s head off to our next destination. The time is growing short, and we only have three more stops before this tour ends.
Julie and Blu
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