|Christmas in Russia|
|Official name||Рождество Христово|
|Significance||in memory of the birth of Jesus|
|Celebrations||Christmas tree decorations, church services|
|Begins||31 December/1 January|
|Next time||7 January 2023|
Christmas in Russia (Russian: Рождество Христово Rozhdestvo Khristovo, in the Russian Orthodox Church called Е́же по пло́ти Рождество Господа Бога и Спа́са нашего Иисуса Христа Yezhe po ploti Rozhdestvo Gospoda Boga i Spasa nashego Yisusa Khrista), commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, is celebrated on 25 December in the Julian calendar used by the church, which falls on 7 January in the common Gregorian calendar. Christmas is considered a high holiday by the Russian Orthodox Church, one of the 12 Great Feasts, and one of only four of which are preceded by a period of fasting.
Christmas was largely erased from the calendar during much of the 20th century under the Soviet Union's anti-religious policies, but many of its traditions survived having been transplanted to New Year's. Although Christmas was re-established as a holiday in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is still eclipsed by New Year's Day, which remains the major Russian holiday.
In Russia, the Christmas holiday became the official celebration with the baptism of Rus' ordered by Prince Vladimir in the late 10th century. However, given the early Christian community Kievan Rus', celebration may have a longer history.
In the 19th century, a lavishly decorated Christmas tree became central to the holiday, a tradition originally imported by Nicholas I's wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, from her native Prussia. The tradition to give gifts to children at Christmas took root around the same time. Christmas gifts were traditionally brought by Ded Moroz (Rus: Дед Мороз, or Grandfather Frost), the Russian counterpart of Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas, albeit a little taller and less stout. Rooted in Slavic folklore, Ded Moroz is accompanied by his beautiful granddaughter, Snegurochka (Rus: Снегурочка, The Snowmaiden), who rides with him on a sleigh pulled by a trio of horses.
During the early Soviet period, religious celebrations were discouraged by the official state policy of atheism. Christmas trees were denounced as a bourgeois German import while the holiday itself was debunked as a pagan sun-worshipping ritual with no basis in scientific fact. In 1929, all religious holidays including Christmas were abolished by a decree of the Soviet government. However, in 1935, in a surprising turn of state politics, many Christmas traditions were revived as part of a secular New Year's celebration after Stalin's advisers convinced the leader of the proletarians' need for a break from the hard work in the middle of a long cold winter. The Christmas tree was repurposed as a "New Year's fir tree" (Russian: Новогодняя елка, Novogodnyaya yolka) to be admired by all children throughout the Soviet Union, including republics which historically had not celebrated Christmas due to different religious traditions, such as the Central Asian ones. Other Christmas attributes and traditions, such as gift-giving, Ded Moroz's visits and Christmas decorations, lost their religious significance and became associated with New Year's celebrations, which were secular in nature.
In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Christmas was reinstated alongside other religious holidays.
On Christmas Eve, 6 January, there are several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy. The family will then return home for the traditional Christmas Eve (Holy Supper), which consists of 12 dishes, one to honour each of the Twelve Apostles. Devout families will then return to church for the All Night Vigil. Then again, on Christmas Morning, they return to attend the Morning Divine Liturgy of the Nativity. Since 1992 Christmas has become a national holiday in Russia, as part of the ten-day holiday at the start of the new year.
Principal dishes on the Christmas table in old Russia included a variety of pork (roasted pig), stuffed pig's head, roasted meat chunks, jelly (kholodets), and aspic. Christmas dinner also included many other meats: goose with apples, sour cream hare, venison, lamb, whole fish, etc. The abundance of fried and baked meats, whole baked chicken, and fish on the festive table was associated with features of the Russian oven, which allowed successful preparation of large portions.
Finely sliced meat and pork was cooked in pots with semi-traditional porridge. Pies were indispensable dishes for Christmas, as well as other holidays, and included both closed and open style pirogi (pirozhki, vatrushkas, coulibiacs, kurnik, saechki, shangi), kalachi, cooked casseroles, and blini. Fillings of every flavor were included (herbal, vegetable, fruit, mushrooms, meat, fish, cheese, mixed).
Sweet dishes served on the Russian Christmas table included berries, fruit, candy, cakes, angel wings, biscuits, honey. Beverages included drinking broths (kompot and sweet soups, sbiten), kissel, and, from the beginning of the 18th century, Chinese tea.
In 1999, atheist MV Agbunov requested that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation tested the constitutionality of decrees on the recognition of 7 January as a federal holiday. This request was denied by the court based on the argument that "the specified statutory provisions apply to the law on public holidays days ..., and do not contain provisions indicating the violation of constitutional rights and freedoms referred to by the applicant. (Articles 14, 19, 28 and 29 (part 2) of the Constitution of Russia)".
In 2008, a neo-pagan group filed a similar complaint. The group argued that the fact that Orthodox Christmas is an official holiday is contrary to the Constitution of Russia, according to which "no religion can be established as state and obligatory". After having considered the complaint, the court rejected it on the grounds that decisions about public holidays are within the competence of the Russian Parliament and are not a constitutional matter.
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