We call the twelve days after Christmas to Epiphany the Svyatki, that is, holy days; the coming of the Saviour of the world sanctifies them. The Church began to celebrate these special days in ancient times. In the 6th century, in the canons, St Sabbas wrote that during the Svyatki we are not supposed to prostrate ourselves or perform weddings. The Second Council of Truro in 567 proclaimed all the days from Christmas to Epiphany as holidays. In the beginning of the Svyatki, traditionally, we take presents and gifts and visit neighbours, relatives, and friends, in memory of the gifts brought by the Magi to the God-Infant (Богомладенцу). Housewives beautifully cover the tables; they prepare delicious special foods. We also take care to remember the poor, the sick, and the needy. We visit children’s homes, orphanages, hospitals, and prisons. In ancient times, during the Svyatki, kings would disguise themselves as common people so that they could visit the prisons and gave alms to the prisoners.
A special tradition of the Svyatki in Russia was kolyadovanie (carolling), or, some called it slavlenie (literally, “glorying”, idiomatically, “praising”). Teens and kids dressed up, they went from house to house with a big homemade star, singing church hymns such as the Tropar and Kondak of the feast, and they sang spiritual songs, kolyadki (carols), about Christmas. Just about everybody had the custom of kolyadovanie, but every region did it just a little bit differently. In some areas of Russia, a “cave” replaced the star. It was a kind of puppet theatre, depicting the scene of the Nativity of Christ. Our folkloric and literary creativity draws much inspiration from the festival of the Svyatki. The days of Christmas become, in the words of the famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “days that bring the family together”, they are days of mercy and reconciliation. Stories about the good and wonderful things that happen to people at Christmas are called Svyatki stories (святочных историй).
If you click on the URL above, there are video clips and MP3 selections on the page. They’re short, so the fact that the narration is in Russian shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, there is a great deal of our holiday music on them… enjoy! Here’s a direct link to one of the videos.