Christmas in Russia

1:05 AM / Posted by Linda McGregory /

Today is the 9th of January - the third day of Svyatki. It is the period starting from the 7th of January - Christmas Day - and lasting up to the 19th of January - The Day of Kreshchenie (Epiphany).
Christmas in Russia differs much from that in Catholic countries.
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 is used in Catholic countries.
Many other religious and folk traditions were suppressed during the communist era. 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 (religious procession) is led by the highest-ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church, now it is Patriarch Alexei the Second. 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.

True Christians keep the 40-days fast, but unfortunately there are not many people whose faith is still strong enough to give up the meals which is served on New Year's Day. It can be explained by the influence of the Soviet period.

The New Year's tree - Yelka - is also an essential part of Christmas.

Traditional Christmas dinner consists of 12 dishes (according to the number of apostles). It starts after the first star. The whole day of January 6 people do not eat, waiting for the Christmas dinner.

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat berries 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. Before starting the dinner, people eat three spoons of kutya. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful honey harvest.

Another traditional meal is pie filled with cabbage, potatoes and other ingredients.

On the whole, it is one of the best holidays here in Russia, but it is not so widely celebrated as New Year's Day.
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