Voices from Russia

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sputnik Presents: Pray, Sing Carols and Tell Fortunes… How Russia Celebrates Christmas


The majority of those celebrating Orthodox Christmas on 7 January live in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia. Minority populations in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria also observed the holiday according to the Julian calendar.



President Putin attended Nativity services at the Yuriev Monastery in Novgorod Oblast.



Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias served on Nativity at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.



In 337 AD, Roman Pope Julius I approved 25 December as the date of Christmas. Since then, Christendom celebrates Christmas on December 25 (except the Armenian Church, which celebrates Christmas and Epiphany as a single feast on the Epiphany). The Russian Orthodox Church also celebrates Christmas on 25 December, but as it didn’t accept the calendar reform by Roman Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, the Church observes the feast on that date according to the old Julian calendar, which is 7 January on the “new” Gregorian calendar.



President Putin talked to fishermen after attending Nativity services at the Yuriev Monastery.



At Christmas, it is customary in many families to decorate a Christmas tree and give each other gifts. People adorn Christmas tree branches with various sweets and glowing lights.



After attending services on Christmas day, people would break the fast with all kinds of meat and fish dishes, as well as a jellied or roasted goose with apples. Roasted poultry adorned the Christmas table. Chicken was served cold, whilst goose or duck was served hot. People garnished cold chicken with pickles, tomatoes and herbs; they served hot poultry with roast potatoes. In every home, there were pies and cakes made of unleavened rye dough with various fillings. People also gave out Christmas cakes to “starrers” (kolyadki* singers).

  • Kolyadki: Russian equivalent of Christmas carols, sung during the entire Svyatki period, and sometimes, in some places, right up until the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple on 15 February



In Russia, tradition and religion intertwine. Christmas celebrations last from 6 to 18 January in most places. People still follow old customs such as “Starring” (Russian carolling), which is the Russian equivalent of “trick-or-treat” (but without the pranks).



On the evening of 6 January, Chairman of the Government D A Medvedev and his wife Svetlana prayed at Orthodox Christmas services at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.



“Starrers” walk from house to house of friends or acquaintances singing Christmas carols in their honour and ask for treats. People show generosity and hospitality to their unexpected guests and give them traditional gifts.



The “starrers” sing songs wishing their benefactors a rich harvest, newborn livestock, and good order at home in thanks for their generous gifts. Then, they go on to the next house.



On 6 January (Nativity Eve), a woman prayed during services at Vigil mass at St Serge Russian Orthodox church in Paris.



The Svyatki period is also known for its fortune-telling tradition. Eastern Slavs consider Christmas and Epiphany Eves to be the best time for fortune-telling. If a girl wants to see her groom, she must sit in a dark room between two mirrors, light candles, and peer into the gallery of reflections, hoping to see her future husband. Questions about love, marriage, and family life have always been the most popular in fortune-telling.



Participants in the Winter Malanya Festival of ethnic groups and historical reenactment at Klyuchi Oblast Park in the village of Kostroma in Prokhorovka Raion (Belgorod Oblast).



Archpriest Pavel, the parish rector, oversaw Christmas services at the Church of the Icon of the Birthgiver “of Tikhvin” in Kazan.


Truth in Advertising Department:

Some of these images are from last year or the year before… but that doesn’t matter, as they illustrate Russian Nativity and Svyatki customs well. Just tellin’ you what is…


7 January 2017

Sputnik International



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