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Christmas in Russia

People often ask us, "How do they celebrate Christmas in Russia?" Well, it's a bit difficult to say how they celebrate Christmas in Russia, because basically, they don't celebrate Christmas here. December 25th is just an ordinary work day. During the communist years, they moved all the Christmas traditions to the New Year's holiday. It was a move to secular paganism that has remained a big part of their culture, even though communism fell over 20 years ago. There has been no movement to put these traditions back to Christmas.

New Year's Day is the biggest holiday of the year. Every home puts up a New Year's tree.
New Year's tree
(the caption says "New Year's greetings")

New year's day is a time of wonder for all the children.
(New Year's greetings)

The children wait for the New Year's Eve visit of Grandfather Frost, the symbol of winter.
Grandfather Frost
(Happiness and success in the New Year!)

He comes on a horse drawn sleigh with presents for the kids.
(New Year's greetings)

Grandfather Frost is the king of winter who lives far in the north of Russia.
His helper is Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden.
Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka
(New Year's greetings)

The Snow Maiden loves nature.
Snow Maiden
(New Year's greetings)

It is a new year's tradition to send new year's cards to family and friends.
New Year card
(New Year's greetings from the USSR)

The Russians like to celebrate the Chinese cycle of years, and many greeting cards follow this theme.
For example, 2011 was the year of the rabbit.
year of the rabbit

2010 was the year of the tiger.
year of the tiger
(New Year's greetings!
The tiger gives, without fail, a change to good and happiness
And this wonderful and bright New Year will be the starting point of happy things!
Success! All good things! )

2008 was the year of the rat. You can't imagine the awful cards that year.
year of the rat
(New Year's greetings)

The new year's holiday is a very secular one, as it is in America. The people like to go out on the city square at midnight for concerts and fireworks. The atmosphere is a lot like the 4th of July. Here is a celebration on Red Square in Moscow.
celebration on Red Square
(The flags say "Russia")

There actually is a Christmas holiday in Russia, but it is not in December. The Russian Orthodox church uses the old Julian calendar, rather than the "Catholic" Gregorian calendar than we use. Their calendar is off by about one day every hundred years, so now they are about two weeks behind us. The Russian nation uses our calendar, but the Russian church, which sets religious holidays, uses the old calendar, so Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th! (By the old calendar, it is December 25th.) Nobody really pays any attention to Russian Christmas. It mostly passes by without notice, although the church may have a special ceremony, attended by very few.

A few years ago, the government established a 10 day holiday that starts on new year's eve. Most businesses are closed for 10 days, and it is a big inconvenience. The rich Russians fly to Switzerland and party at ski lodges in the Alps. Most of the other Russians stay home and get drunk for 10 days. It is really a disgraceful time of year. Many people go outside and accidentally freeze to death.

In our ministry, we don't make a big deal about December 25th. It's not a Bible holiday, and we don't try to press American traditions upon them. Our family always observes an American Christmas in our home. I once had a pastor who used to complain about how we confined all of our remembrance of Christ's birth to one day of the year. We ought to celebrate His birth all year. I remember how this pastor used to have us sing Christmas carols in the summer. It shocked us then, but he made a good point. Such wonderful songs ought to be sung every week. Here in Oryol, we sing Christmas carols in our church every month, and we think of His birth all year long.

We often have a special party for the church people in our home on the last Sunday afternoon of the year, usually after Christmas and before New Year's Day. I tell the people that we are celebrating Christmas, and if they want to celebrate new year, that is up to them. It is always a great time of fellowship that seems to draw our people closer together. We cook a special meal for them, and play games. We read the Christmas story from Luke 2, and give them gifts.

Here are a few pictures from our Christmas/New year parties.
men play a game
the men play a game

women play a game
the women play a game for gifts

reading the Christmas story
reading the Christmas story

bean bag
playing bean bag - men vs. women! (the men won)

secret score
the "secret score" game - pick a tag to gain or lose points for your side (the men won)

Sveta picks a tag
Sveta picks a tag for her team

dessert table
the very popular dessert table

group photo
group photo