On which month and date do Russians observe Christmas?

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By Kristy Tolley

Russian Christmas Observance

Christmas is one of the most important religious holidays celebrated worldwide, including Russia. It is a day when families gather together, exchange gifts, and share meals. However, the Russian Orthodox Church has a different date for Christmas, which might be surprising to some. In this article, we will explore the history, traditions, and customs of Christmas in Russia.

Christmas in Russia: Background & History

Christmas in Russia has been celebrated for more than a thousand years, but it was somewhat suppressed during the Soviet era. In 1991, the Russian Orthodox Church regained its position as the main religion in the country, and Christmas became a public holiday again. Unlike many Western countries, where Christmas is on December 25, in Russia, it is observed on January 7. This is because the Russian Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar, which is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world.

Julian vs. Gregorian Calendar: Difference

The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. It was based on the cycles of the sun and moon, and it set the year at 365.25 days. However, this was not entirely accurate, and over time, the Julian calendar fell out of sync with the seasons. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar, the Gregorian calendar. It was more accurate than the Julian calendar, and it set the year at 365.2425 days. Most of the world adopted the Gregorian calendar, but the Russian Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian calendar.

Orthodox Church: Role in Christmas Celebration

The Russian Orthodox Church plays an important role in the celebration of Christmas in Russia. The Christmas Eve service is one of the most important services of the year. It is held on January 6 and lasts for several hours. During the service, the priest blesses the food that will be eaten on Christmas Day. The Christmas Day service is also an important part of the celebration. It is held on January 7 and lasts for several hours. The service includes the singing of hymns and the reading of the Gospel.

Christmas Eve: Traditions and Customs

Christmas Eve, known as "Sochelnik" in Russia, is a significant day in the celebration of Christmas. It is a day of fasting, and the first meal of the day is eaten after the evening service. The meal is called "Holy Supper" and consists of twelve dishes, representing the twelve apostles. The dishes do not include meat, dairy, or eggs, as it is still a day of fasting.

Christmas Day: Ceremonies and Rituals

Christmas Day is a time for family and celebration. Many families attend the morning service at their local church and then return home for a festive meal. The day is also a time for gift-giving. Children receive gifts from "Ded Moroz," the Russian version of Santa Claus, who is thought to bring presents to children on New Year’s Eve.

Traditional Christmas Cuisine in Russia

As mentioned earlier, the Holy Supper served on Christmas Eve consists of twelve dishes. The dishes are vegetarian and are symbolic of the twelve apostles. They include kutya, a sweet porridge made from wheat berries, honey, and poppy seeds, and borscht, a beet soup. On Christmas Day, meat dishes such as roasted pork or beef are often served, as it is no longer a day of fasting.

Christmas Gifts: Gifting Culture in Russia

In Russia, gifts are usually exchanged on New Year’s Eve, but children receive gifts from Ded Moroz on Christmas Day. The tradition of gift-giving is relatively new in Russia, having been introduced during the Soviet era. Before then, gifts were not exchanged during the Christmas celebration.

Russian Folklore: Christmas Legends & Myths

The Russian Orthodox Church has many legends and myths associated with Christmas. One such legend is that of Babushka, an old woman who refused to follow the Wise Men to see the baby Jesus. She regretted her decision and spent the rest of her life searching for him. Another legend is that of the "miraculous berry," which is said to have grown on a bush in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus.

How to Celebrate Christmas in Russia

If you are planning to celebrate Christmas in Russia, there are several things to keep in mind. First, be aware that the celebration is religious in nature, and attending church services is an essential part of the celebration. Second, be prepared for some cultural differences, such as celebrating on January 7 instead of December 25 and exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Day.

Conclusion: Russian Christmas Tradition

Christmas is an essential religious and cultural holiday in Russia, observed on January 7. The celebration is steeped in tradition and includes church services, special meals, and the exchange of gifts. The Russian Orthodox Church plays a significant role in the celebration, and many of the traditions and customs date back hundreds of years.

References: Sources & Bibliography

  • "Christmas in Russia." Russian National Tourist Office, www.visitrussia.org.uk/holidays-and-events/christmas-in-russia/.
  • "Russian Christmas Traditions." RBTH, 26 Dec. 2017, www.rbth.com/arts/lifestyle/2017/12/26/russian-christmas-traditions-857204.
  • "Russian Christmas." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Christmas.
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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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