On January 19, the Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany (Креще́ние), the day when St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. On this day, a ceremony of blessing water takes place in every Orthodox Church. It is believed that on this day water becomes holy (святая вода) and has special healing power. For that reason, ice-holes in the form of a cross are made on rivers, lakes and ponds, where many Russians jump into freezing water, washing their sins away. Even though the water is very cold, no one has ever got sick after the ritual. In almanacs, this holiday was tied to heavy frosts, so-called "Epiphany frosts" (к...

January in Russia is the most magical and joyful time, full of hopes and expectations. At all times it has been treated as a border zone between the Old and the New, between winter and spring. The ancient belief states that unearthly powers and spirits become available for contact during this time. In the past, people tried to use this opportunity to foretell the future by interpreting secret signs. This was carried out during the two-week period straight after the Russian Christmas until Epiphany Day. Since the early 90s, when Christmas became an official holiday in Russia, fortune-telling has regained its popularity, though now it...

"Shchedryk" (from Ukrainian «Щедрий вечiр», "Bountiful Evening") is a Ukrainian Christmas carol, which was arranged by composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1916. It tells a story of a swallow flying into a household to sing of wealth that will come with the following spring.

In 1936, Peter J. Wilhousky adapted "Shchedryk".  He copyrighted and published his new lyrics (not based on the Ukrainian lyrics), and the Ukrainian "Shchedryk" turned into a Western Christmas carol, well-known in the English-speaking world as "Carol of the Bells". You have probably heard this carol many times, but never thought...

'Kolyada' is an ancient pagan winter ritual, which was later incorporated into Christmas. The word is still used in many modern Slavic languages such as Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Czech, and Serbian. One theory states that “kolyada” is the name of a cycle of winter rituals derived from the Latin word calendae (“calendar” - календа́рь). Some claim it was named after Kolyada, the Slavic goddess of winter, who brings up a new sun every day.

 

In modern Slavic languages, “kalyada” means the tradition of strolling, singing, and having fun on Christmas Eve. It specifica...

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Svyatki – Свя́тки) begin after Christmas and last until January 19, Epiphany Day. This period of Christmas festivities includes a few pagan traditions.

Image: Денисова Дарья. Рождественские колядки

 

One of them is visiting homes and singing carols– ‘kalyadovaniye’. People in Christmas costumes and animal masks took kutia (кутья́) to homes and asked the owners to try some. Sometimes, they would simply sing hymns of praise to Christ or carols (коля́дки). In response, they were given treats or money. Traditionally, there are three major kolyada rituals during the holiday season: on Christmas Eve, 13th of Jan...

Most of Russians are Orthodox Christians, and celebrate Christmas (Рождество́) on January 7th (according to the Gregorian calendar). In Kievan Rus, Christmas became an official holiday after the baptism of Prince Vladimir in the late 10th century. However, considering that the Christian community existed in ancient Kiev even earlier, the celebration may date back further.

 

During the Soviet period of the 1920s, religious holidays were rooted out by the atheist government. The Christmas tree and celebrations associated with it gradually lost their meaning. However, in 1935, after an unexpected twist in government policy, Christmas tr...

On Christmas Eve (Sochelnik – Соче́льник), the Christmas service in Russian Orthodox churches starts and lasts until early morning. 

 

On Christmas Eve, the entire family fasts until the first star appears (до пе́рвой звезды́). That's when they sit at the table which features 12 dishes in honor of Jesus's 12 apostles. The feast begins with a sweet porridge called 'kutia' (кутья́) with honey and poppy seed

They then proceed to the main customary foods, which in Russia are traditionally roasted piglet and roasted goose. In the past, people used to make pies, take them to church the day after Christmas to be blessed, and then give th...

Unlike Americans who think of a decorated holiday tree as a Christmas tree (рожде́ственская ёлка), Russians always call it a New Year tree (нового́дняя ёлка). The tradition of putting up and decorating a spruce tree was introduced to Russia by Peter the Great in the 18th century, and the trees were decorated for Christmas at that time. Later, after the October Revolution in 1917, as a result of the antireligious campaign, Christmas celebrations were banned, and Christmas trees were replaced with secular New Year trees. This is how рожде́ственская ёлка became нового́дняя ёлка. Since then, traditionally, all Russians have decorated a...

The tradition of sending holiday cards came to Russia from England. Illustrated cards that were in trend at the end of the 19th century in Western Europe, quickly gained their popularity in Russia. The first cards were brought from overseas by merchants, and the scripts on them were hand-written by calligraphers. Later, some book stores started ordering printed cards from Germany. Because of the delivery and handwriting expenses, those cards were very pricey.

Фотография ©Бибичков Михаил

 

The first Russian Christmas cards were created in 1872. New Year cards appeared very soon after that and were widely used by people of different...

How could America get through the holiday season without the sparkling romantic music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" (Rus. Щелкунчик / Schelkunchik)? Tchaikovsky based his ballet suite on Alexandre Dumas père's "The Tale of the Nutcracker" (1845) a re-working of the original E.T.A. Hoffman tale "The Nutcracker and the Rat King" (1816).

 

The Nutcracker ballet premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1892. The ballet, with choreography by Marius Petipa and was not particularly successful at first, though Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite had considerable success.

 

Act one of Petipa'a original libretto of the ball...

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