New Years in Russia
Historically, in the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated. New Years was the important time.
The New Year in modern day Russia is perhaps still more celebrated than is Christmas. This is when Father Frost (Ded Moroz) accompanied by his Grandaughter, the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka), brings presents to children. On New Year’s Eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. As they appear, the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up!
Christmas in Russia is January 7th
In present day Russia, under the influence of the Russian Orthodox church and the Julian calendar of religious celebrations, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. Their Orthodox Advent lasts 40 days, starting on November 28th and lasting through the 6th of January. But the official Christmas and New Years holidays in Russia are from December 31st to January 10th.
The Christmas Meal in Russia
Some Russians will fast on Christmas Eve, until the first star appears in the sky. Then they eat sochivo or kutia, a porridge made from wheat or rice and served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies! Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, symbolizing unity.
In the past, it was tradition for Russian families to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck, it meant they would have good luck and a good harvest!
Some Orthodox Christian Russians don’t eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal. Instead sauerkraut is main dish for their Christmas Eve meal. It can be served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. They may also have pies or porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms, beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom); salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads.
Christmas dessert may be fruit pies, gingerbread or honeybread cookies and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts. Vzvar (boil-up) is often served to end the meal. Vzvar is a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. It is traditionally served at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
Following the meal, it is customary for prayers to be said before the family attends the midnight Church services. They often won’t wash the dishes until they get home from Church – sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am!
Like Italy, Russia also has a legend about an old woman (the Babushka) who was asked to help the wise men find the baby Jesus and did not. She now roams from house to house at Christmas searching for the Christ child and leaving gifts for all the children.
Have you been to Russia for the holidays? What was your favorite part of Christmas there?
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