In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. The New Year’s time was much more important. With the fall of Communism, Christmas finally regained its lost glory and was declared a national holiday in the country. Since then, it is openly celebrated on January 7th. The date is different from the rest of the world because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January. Russians fast during these 6 weeks, they eat only vegetarian food, no meat is allowed.
The fast, typically, lasts until after the evening worship service or until the first star appears. The dinner that follows, called “The Holy Supper”, is very much a celebration, although, meat is not permitted. The meal begins with the Lord’s Prayer, led by the father of the family. A prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year is said and then prayers for the good things in the coming year are offered. The head of the family greets those present with the traditional Christmas greeting: “Christ is Born!”. The family members respond: “Glorify Him!”. After the dinner the family usually goes to Church, coming home between 2 and 3 am.
The most traditional Christmas food is Kutya (kutia) – a type of porridge made of wheat, honey and poppy seed. All the ingredients symbolize hope, immortality, happiness, and peace. The family members eat this special dish from a single dish reflecting love and unity for their dear ones.
On the Feast of the Nativity, neighbors and family members visit each other, going from house to house, eating, drinking, singing Carols and giving Christmas presents.
One of the most popular Christmas traditions in Russia is that groups of people (mostly kids) dress themselves as animals and wander from house to house singing special songs called kolyadki. These songs have various topics like carols sung for baby Jesus. People in return give little gifts, fruit, sweets or pay coins as appreciation for songs.
The Russian Christmas greeting is ‘S Rozhdestvom!’.