How Celebrated Christmas in Russia
Veliki Ustiug’s Gifts
The protagonist of the party is Santa Claus, who in Russia is called Ded Moroz(Grandfather of the Cold), and is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka(the Snow Maiden). For just over 10 years, both officially inhabit about 950 kilometers north of Moscow, in Veliki Ustiug.
For reasons that nobody can understand, the former mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov proclaimed this town of 30,000 inhabitants the official residence of the Grandfather of the Cold. There, on New Year’s Eve, the old man hooks the horses and hurries to distribute the gifts.
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On New Year’s Eve? Yes. It is at this point that the story gets complicated. What happens is that the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25, instituted by Peter the Great, was abolished by the Bolsheviks after the Revolution of 1917. They also introduced the Gregorian calendar, which by then was the one that was already used in all European.
The dome of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the other hand, remained faithful to the Julian calendar, which is delayed for 13 days. So Christmas Eve in Russia is celebrated on January 7, according to the Gregorian calendar. And today, December 25 is a working day for the Russians.
The Most Important Party of the Year
In Soviet times, Christmas became a holiday celebrated in the privacy of homes by some nonconformists and devout secrets. A few years later, the communists created an atheist Christmas, made it coincide with the 1st of January and called it Novi God (New Year).
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The Russians soon became fond of the party. Proof of this is that, so far, Novi God continues to be the most important holiday, in which the family gathers around a table full of food and in which gifts are piled up under a fir tree.
At the same time, the original Christmas (Rozhdestvo, meaning “birth”) is regaining its importance. Every year thousands of Muscovite believers go to the Cathedral of Christ to celebrate Christmas Eve. Processions flood the streets.
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Christians do not take meat during the 40 days before Christmas Eve and begin the banquet with sochivo, a sweet made of nuts, poppy seeds, honey and cereals.
According to a 2005 decree, Russia joins a ten-day holiday that starts with the new year. During this time Moscow becomes a sleeping giant: its inhabitants escape to the regions to celebrate the holidays with their families, the hotels remain empty, the queues disappear from the ticket offices of the theaters. It is an authentic Christmas paradise.