25 Dec 2021 11:23 a.m.
by Anton Gentzen
When asked how people celebrate Christmas in Russia, the answer a few years ago would have been: “not at all”. And with it, this could have been the shortest article in history. Today this answer is no longer correct, since many Russians have found their way back to the Christian faith.
December 25th and 26th are still not a public holiday in Russia (except for the small minorities of Catholics and Baptists). This is due to a peculiarity of the Russian Orthodox Church, which refused to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1917.
The cross with the calendars
The Julian calendar was introduced by none other than Gaius Julius Caesar in 45 BC. Caesar’s calendar was already fairly accurate: the year had 365 days, and an additional day was included every four years in order to come as close as possible to the astronomical orbit of the earth around the sun (solar year). As it turned out later, the “Caesarian” year was about eleven minutes longer than the solar year. These minutes have added up over the centuries: Today the Julian calendar “lags” “the sun” (and the Gregorian calendar) by 13 days.
In the Catholic-dominated countries of Western and Central Europe, this was corrected in 1582 by the omission of ten days and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, which allows for fewer leap years than the Julian calendar. The Protestant states followed in the course of the later decades. Russia, on the other hand, had to wait for the changeover until the 1917 revolution. Anyone who traveled to Russia in the 18th or 19th century not only had to change the clock, but also set an older date. Those who undertook this trip in the first days of January found themselves in the old year and could toast the new year again.
Speaking of the New Year celebrations: This was only introduced in Russia by the great reformer, Tsar Peter the Great. In the year 7208. And according to the sovereign decree, the year 7208 was followed by the year 1700. At least when counting the year, one went along with the Europeans from then on. But for the New Year later.
When February 1, 1918, became February 14, by order of the Bolsheviks in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church refused to obey and stuck to the Julian calendar – until today. According to their calculations, the Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but according to the secular Gregorian calendar this is already January 7th.
Three in one – New Year celebrates Christmas and Mardi Gras
The revolution also changed the meaning of Christmas for society as a whole. When Russia lived according to the Julian calendar and Christmas was before the New Year celebrations, the night of December 24th to 25th was the focus of the winter joys of life for the Russian families, especially the children: They were the fairytale evening and the fairytale night , in which there were gifts and (but only after midnight, because before that was fasted) a festive meal with the family. There was also a special name for it: Sochelnik.
Even the Soviet power had to and wanted to offer the children a special magic once a year, but for ideological reasons it could no longer be Christmas in the secular state. And so all the traditions that had grown around Sochelnik shifted to the New Year festival. And they stayed with this date until today, January 7th and the evening before it still have a purely religious meaning today.
What can children expect in Russia at the New Year?
Jolka – on the one hand, there is the Christmas tree with which families with children also decorate their living room in Russia. But that is also the name of a party that is organized for the little ones in kindergarten or school. This also includes a Christmas tree decorated with tinsel, glowing garlands, colorful glass balls and a red star at the top. In the school auditorium or in theater foyers rented for this purpose, it is of course much larger and fancier than the one at home.
The children dance around the tree and sing songs that were specially composed for the New Year celebrations (“A fir tree was born in the forest“, “It’s cold in the forest for the little Christmas tree” or “Winter lives in a hut“).
Important: Every child wears a costume, so the Russian New Year is also Mardi Gras for the little ones. In the past, every mother had to sew the costume by hand, today it is not frowned upon to buy it or have it professionally sewn.
If the children have danced and sung well and each have learned a poem by heart, then he comes: Ded Moros, Uncle Frost. But only when the young and old call out loudly for him. Ded Moros doesn’t come alone, he has an assistant: Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden. It’s even more fun to sing and dance with the two of them, but sometimes the real Snegurochka is late, and then this can happen here:
But if everything goes well, there will be presents from the Ded Moro’s huge backpack: mostly a bag with lots of sweets. Yes, the really expensive gifts are only available in the evening under the Christmas tree.
And if all of this was too complicated for you, Mascha explains it very simply and very, very clearly:
And how do the adults celebrate?
Well, the Russian way of greeting the New Year is not fundamentally different from the German: It’s about drinking, eating, drinking again, dancing, drinking, listening to the president (or pretending), singing the anthem (or pretending to be) ), counting the seconds, clinking glasses, drinking, dancing and eventually falling down tired. And all of this is best done in good company with friends and relatives.
“The way you receive the New Year, so it will be to you too.” (Russian proverb)
At least on New Year’s Eve, Germans and Russians go well together, and there is still the big and still unsolved question of who drinks more and who is more drinkable.
But of course there are a few special features that you have to consider in order to spend New Year’s Eve like a Russian. Here are the most important:
1. Vergiss “Dinner for one”!
In Russia, not just a sketch, but an entire film is compulsory on the TV program on December 31st: “Irony of fate or fresh out of the sauna”.
A newly engaged man and his friends go to the banya, the Russian sauna, on the afternoon of December 31st, as they do every year. There the drinking party is inevitable, at the end of which no one can remember who the plane ticket to Leningrad belongs to. The friends choose the fiancé, who is still deeply asleep, and invite him onto the plane. In Leningrad, the man who is not aware of the change of location gives the taxi driver his Moscow address, finds the same type of building at the destination, and even his key matches the apartment.
After a while, a young woman returns who lives in the apartment and is expecting her fiancé. The situation comedy is increasingly becoming a romantic snitch that lasts for two hours and two series. It is strictly forbidden in Russia not to find this film good!
2. No New Year’s Eve without “Olivier”!
Nobody knows why the colorful mix of various vegetables and sausages enriched with mayonnaise has a French name. Perhaps this is Russian revenge for the fact that the French keep adding the adjective “Russian” to things that the Russians don’t even know. In any case, a Moscow magazine printed the recipe for the first time in 1894. It did not gain nationwide popularity until after the Second World War, when it was included in the standard Soviet cookbook “About delicious and healthy food” in 1948. Just as the VW Beetle is the symbol of the post-war upswing in West Germany, in the Soviet Union, along with some other utensils of modest prosperity, it should be this festive salad.
The recipe: Put various vegetables and white sausages, meat or poultry into a bowl, chopped into small cubes, peas, eggs, boiled potatoes and pickled cucumbers. Stir it, refine it with vinegar and sugar, add other items to taste, then add mayonnaise spoonfuls and stir everything well. Variations and improvisations are expressly encouraged. Don’t forget to put it in the fridge. Like champagne, “Olivier” tastes best chilled. Enjoy your meal!
3. And anyway, the table!
No trite clichés, please! The New Year is not welcomed with vodka, but with sparkling wine. Well, well, some vodka can also be there. Since sparkling wine is no longer allowed to be called champagne, the Crimean sparkling wine has been doing it. Otherwise, plan enough for the whole long night: to eat and drink. If you are invited somewhere, the guest always brings something for the host: a sausage or meat, a bottle of alcohol and something sweet for dessert. The table should be as full and as rich as possible. But vote beforehand who will bring what – not that there are five bowls of Olivier on the table and otherwise just dry bread.
By the way, a few mandarins on the table are also tradition.
As a beginner, remember this one: “To the beautiful women!” – “Sa prekrasnych dam!” That always pulls, even for the tenth time. A Russian can’t drink enough to women.
And if you don’t want to stop celebrating, you can confess your sins at Orthodox Christmas (as many Russians do) and celebrate the New Year again a week later (as all Russians do): according to the Julian calendar.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
more on the subject – It’s Christmas time in Moscow