Don’t be surprised and relive Christmas if you are going to be in Russia on this date. Christmas in Russia is distinguished by the custom and tradition with which the end of the year is celebrated, providing a pleasant occasion to reflect on the ceremonial rites that are part of the enormous influence of the Orthodox Church.
History of the Sviatki — Orthodox Christmas
Although Sviatki is the Orthodox equivalent of Easter, it has its peculiarities.
While in Catholicism Easter corresponds to twelve days of Christmas, running from noon on December 25 to the morning of January 6, Epiphany, in Orthodoxy, is divided into twelve feast days between Christmas (January 7) and the Baptism of the Lord (January 19).
The Sviatki are often referred to as “holy nights”, perhaps because they are observed in remembrance of the events of Christmas and the Baptism of the Lord, both of which occurred at night or sunset.
Why the holiday lasts so long is not due to some unique trait or character of the Russian soul, but because it maintains the most ancient rituals of the Slavic ancestors. Orthodox and pagan traditions are distinguished in the celebration of Sviatki.
The feast of Sviatovit
Sviatki was known as “the feast of Sviatovit” before the adoption of Christianity. Some sources claim that the origin of this word is in the Old Slavic “sviatki”, which meant “the souls of ancestors”.
Ancient Easter rituals centered on songs, games, costumes and divinations to predict personal happiness in the future.
At this time, people also celebrated the Koliada festival (the winter solstice day) by lighting bonfires and dancing around them at night.
To attract a good harvest for the following year, people used to dress up in costumes. The attire served to represent the rebirth of nature.
The Koliadki have a tradition that has lasted to this day. Slavic songs and satirical greetings are sung on Christmas Eve and Sviatki has names derived from the original Russian word “koliadki”.
The tradition of the koliada
It is customary to sing and send greetings from house to house while performing this ritual. It is known that even the Russian Emperor Peter the Great, who executed those who disobeyed the celebration, participated in this ritual.
Easter is celebrated by all members of society, young and old. The unmistakable atmosphere of Sviatki, Christmas Easter, is created by games, songs, house visits, gatherings and divinations, but it is first and foremost a holiday of youth.
Christmas festivals replaced solstice day celebrations, as has happened in many other Christian nations. Many were persuaded by the Church that certain Sviatki rituals were impure.
That took place specifically after the Orthodox were warned of the risk posed by divinations. Those who disobeyed and continued to perform these rites were usually excommunicated.
From the Orthodox point of view, naughty amusements, fortune-telling, costumes and debauchery at feasts were all grave sins during this time.
All attendees of the Christmas and Easter feasts were obliged to bathe in the well on the night of baptism to atone for their transgressions and wash them away.
Today, Russia takes advantage of these occasions to honor the family with the famous Orthodox sacred dinner, which is held on January 6, the eve of Russian Christmas.
The consumption of alcohol is forbidden during this ceremony, in addition to fasting the whole day before dinner.
Imagine visiting Russia for Christmas
Keep in mind that most people have a long weekend from December 24 to January 13, with garlands, toys and numerous fir trees decorating the streets, stores, houses and other public spaces from December 1.
Ded Moroz, also known as Santa Claus or Santa Claus, or Grandfather Cold, is the main character of the holiday. He has the following crucial peculiarity:
- In the United States, Santa Claus enters homes through the chimney, but since French fireplaces are very small, he enters through the window.
- Grandpa Frosty knocks on the door in Russia with a huge sack full of presents before arriving in a sleigh pulled by three white horses.
- Snegurochka, Grandpa Frosty’s granddaughter, joins them. Snegurochka, made of snow, resides in Siberia with her grandfather.
Skating rinks are set up in all Russian cities to celebrate the long weekend and Christmas holidays, with Red Square being the most popular.
In addition, at this time of the year, seasonal specialties are tasted, such as tables full of meat in various presentations, bottles of vodka and champagne, caviar, fruits, sweets, salads and much more.
Finally, there is the New Year’s Eve party, which is always celebrated in style on Moscow’s Red Square, with live music and spectacular fireworks as a backdrop.