One of the established parts of Maslenitsa fun is the storming of the snow fort. Here’s part of this year’s bash.
One of the established parts of Maslenitsa fun is the storming of the snow fort. Here’s part of this year’s bash.
Epiphany in Moscow (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal District) RF
Epiphany in Vorkuta (Komi Republic. Northwestern Federal District) RF… that be above the Arctic Circle, kids… that’s FAR North
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Christians across Russia marked Orthodox Epiphany, immersing themselves into freezing waters on a cold January night. Epiphany is on 19 January according to the Orthodox Church tradition. The Church teaches that St John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ in the Jordan River on this day, so, Orthodox Christians mark the occasion by jumping into frozen rivers or ponds.
More than 150,000 Muscovites took part in the tradition this year. Russia’s capital offers A-one conditions for believers by constructing specifically designed areas for plunging. The authorities built 60 ice-dipping spots across Moscow, with medical personnel and volunteers present and ready to provide assistance at all specifically designated areas for the cold plunge. For those who truly believe in the holy powers of healing and blessing of the water on Epiphany, even extremely low temperatures in Arctic Siberia didn’t stop them from making the plunge. With temperatures being below -40 degrees in Norilsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai. Siberian Federal District), one of Russia’s most northern cities, hundreds of people showed up to test their faith, Norilsk TV reports. In Vorkuta, situated north of the Arctic Circle, where visibility was less than ten metres (33 feet) because of freezing fog, hundreds of people lined up for the plunge. As they walked out of the ice-hole cut out on the surface of the frozen Usa River, water droplets turned into ice a split second after reaching the ground.
Prior to Epiphany, the Orthodox Church holds a series of religious services that conclude with a blessing of the water. Those who didn’t jump into the icy waters took blessed water home with them. Epiphany concludes the traditional Christmas holiday season in Russia. Russian authorities built more than 3,000 plunging spots across the country. Last year, over 1.3 million people across Russia celebrated Orthodox Epiphany.
19 January 2015
Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different from elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths. Therefore, the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik has more on how their Slaaviq became a community celebration. In Unalaska’s historic downtown, Christmastime means almost every building is strung with lights… all but the Orthodox Church, which sits at the back of the neighbourhood. Its green onion domes date back 200 years, standing out in a skyline of cargo cranes and seafood plants. Outside the church, you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas… until early January, when a rare sound rings out across the island. In the sanctuary, about 15 worshippers sing a set of Russian and English carols. They’re grouped around a pair of spinning wooden stars, each a few feet across and strung with lights, bells, and tinsel. This starring ceremony will repeat dozens of times in the next few nights, in kitchens and living rooms across town.
However, the biggest, newest, part of the holiday came earlier in the day. At least 100 people packed into the local senior centre for a community Slaaviq potluck. The meal only dates back about 15 years, designed to give the elders a starring in the daytime. Fr Evon Bereskin, the Orthodox priest for Unalaska and several nearby villages, said, “The meaning of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, the starring, is that we’re going out to proclaim the birth of Christ. The stars that we’re spinning are the stars which the wise men followed. So, we’re spinning and singing and following the star, which leads us to Christ”. From here, Fr Evon said that they’d spend three days starring in people’s homes. These days, that can include long-time Unalaskans who aren’t actually part of the congregation. However, the list for the second night is all churchgoers. The group that will bring the star to them is bigger than the one at the church. They meet at Fr Evon’s apartment for coffee and brownies, then, try to figure out who’s next… and spread the word via text message. Lifelong Unalaskan Sharon Svarny Livingston is one of the starring group. She said that this part has changed a lot since she was little, when the town looked more like the villages that celebrate Slaaviq in the rest of Alaska. She told us, “In all those other places, you walk with the star all over the whole town, you know? So, that creates a different feeling. Here you gotta drive. If you’re working and you don’t get off until late, you’ve gotta try to find the star, which can be really difficult sometimes. It’s easier now with cell phones”.
The congregation’s also had to condense some over the years. With many parents now raising their kids to celebrate two Christmases… American and Russian… Livingston says that they’ve had to work harder to pass on the traditions, saying, “We kind of went through a period where we really had to teach the young kids the songs and stuff. We all started to go in one group and we just kind of stayed that way. That’s what’s really changed”. The single star they’re using now is thought to be their oldest… made about a century ago in the Native village of Kashega, abandoned during World War II. Tonight, that star… as big as a small child… gets a ride in one of the SUVs caravanning up the road to the first houses on the list. Then, it crowds into Vicki Williams’ living room with its entourage of carollers singing in Russian. The starring always ends the same way… with a blessing of long life. The choir sang, “Many years to all, many years to all, to the people in this house. (In Russian and English) Merry Christmas, merry Christmas!” Williams replied, “Thank you!” Williams wears a big smile, standing in the middle of the crowd and thanking all her friends for coming as they file out, saying, “I feel like I’m having my house blessed when they come here, you know, with the cross and the star and stuff”. She bid a “see you later” to a pair of young fishermen on their way out the door. Around her, the room emptied out as quickly as it filled. The starring group is heading back to their cars. They have lots more houses to get to before the night is over.
16 January 2015
KUCB (Unalaska AK USA)
AK Alaska Public Media
This is a poster for the famous Sov 1961 comedy Самогонщики (Samogonshchiki: The Moonshiners)… click here and watch it (along with another short that comes first)… there’s no dialogue… just fun. Have a drink (or two) and smile!
With the New Year just around the corner, the chance of visitors to Russia not being asked to join the locals for a few celebratory drinks is extremely slim. However, what steps should you take to make sure a traditional vodka session doesn’t leave your head spinning by midnight? RBTH offers useful tips on how best to prepare for a New Year’s feast and avoid its less welcome side effects. When it comes to stereotypes about Russia, there are few more potent than the natives’ supposed attachment to drinking vodka. Foreigners often wonder, “Why do Russians love vodka so much?” Still, with New Year celebrations upon us, another question becomes more topical, “How should you drink vodka with Russians?”
Some attribute Russians’ supposed extraordinary ability to drink a lot of vodka to genetics. However, Russians themselves say that this ability has nothing to do with biology; in fact, it’s rooted in Russian traditions. Often, Russian businessman Artyom Minayev invites foreigners to Moscow restaurants to discuss business; he’s concluded that foreigners don’t know how to drink vodka, saying, “The biggest problem with Europeans, Americans, and the Chinese is that they drink and don’t take any food immediately after. So, after a second or third shot it’s no longer possible to talk to them about work! Russians love vodka because it really does warm you up and because it goes so well with Russian cuisine. When you drink vodka, you should do it with some fatty foods, even if it’s just sour cream! You can have boiled or fried potatoes with it, bread, sausage, cheese, or oily fish. There are numerous snacks that are not at all expensive and that’ll prevent you from getting drunk”.
Many Russians, before sitting down to their New Year feast, consume a raw egg. They say that it’s the best way of making sure that one will last the whole evening and leave the table sober. However, doctors are categorically opposed to this method because raw eggs are the easiest way of contracting salmonella. If you have concerns on that score too, you can just drink a tablespoonful of sunflower oil. On his first visit to Moscow, Santiago Fonseca from Mexico made some thorough preparations for the New Year party he was going to have with his girlfriend’s friends, fearing that otherwise he wouldn’t be able to make it through the night. He said, “I’d read that fat prevents alcohol absorption, so, I drank several spoons of oil and ate two potatoes. It’s hard to believe it, but I remained sober… even having drunk a whole bottle of rather dubious vodka!” Having said that, it’s also very important not to overeat and not to eat too many starchy and sweet foods, despite the fact that fat helps you to stay sober, as they generate more work for the liver and pancreas, making it more difficult for them to process alcohol.
Anastasiya Knezhevich sells numerous varieties of vodka at her shop and spends a lot of time explaining to foreigners how people consume vodka in Siberia, where she’s originally from, saying, “I think the problem with foreigners is that they mix vodka in cocktails and sip vodka slowly. I keep telling them that you have to drink vodka in one go and exhale through the nose and not the mouth. That’s why Russians are capable of drinking a lot of vodka and remaining alive afterwards”.
According to Minayev, at a Russian dinner party it’s important for a foreigner to show that they’re a friendly person. To that end, it’s necessary to drink the first two or three shots, after which it’s possible to take a break to save energy for more to come. He observed, “When a foreigner is ready to have another shot of vodka, they need to take the bottle and fill the glasses of all those present. Once, I was at one dinner where a Japanese guest kept pouring vodka only into his own glass. It was so tactless that nobody wanted to invite him ever again. Incidentally, he never managed to sign the important contracts that he had come to Moscow to sign”.
If none of the recommendations above proves useful in your case, here is another piece of advice from RBTH… first thing the next morning, drink a glass of salty water or pickle brine. This is the most effective ancient remedy against hangovers and headaches… many Russians swear by it.
31 December 2014
Russia Behind the Headlines