In 1918, Russia transitioned from using the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar followed by the West. However, the Russian Orthodox Church still adheres to the Julian calendar, which places Christmas on January 7—13 days behind December 25. In modern-day Russia, citizens sometimes celebrate two Christmases, as well as two New Year's, which is the more important holiday in the Russian culture. January 14 is known as the "Old New Year" because it was the date of New Year's in the Julian calendar. If you have Russian heritage or want to celebrate a global holiday, use these seven ideas on how to share a bit of a Russian Christmas or a Russian New Year.
Share Popular Folktales
Russian folktales are full of well-known characters, such as the Russian Santa Claus, known as both Ded Moroz or Father Frost. His granddaughter is Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, and together, the duo deliver gifts to good children around Russia. Ded Moroz lives in Veliky Ustyug, a town in northern Russia, in an estate where children can write him letters outlining their requests.
Like Santa, Ded Moroz appears in parades and visits large Russian cities. Ded Moroz and Sengurochka make their journey on December 31 to place presents under the New Year's Tree, called a Novogodnaya Yolka, which is more common than a Christmas tree. The tree is typically left up to celebrate both New Year’s holidays.
Try your hand at baking the Russian sweet treat and sharing it with neighbors or friends. A popular Christmas bread, krendel is a sweet yeast bread that is often formed in a pretzel shape and filled with dried fruits. It can be left plain, iced with icing, or covered in powdered sugar.
Light a Bonfire
Because Christmas is celebrated during the bitterly cold Russian winter, lighting a fire—an old Slavic tradition—seems appropriate. Find a place to have your own bonfire with your children and sing carols together. If you don't know of any place to legally hold a bonfire, then light a fire in the fireplace in honor of this tradition.
Fortune-telling is an old Christmas tradition that's still practiced today for fun. Put a spin on this activity by having each child make a list of three to five questions about their futures that can be answered with a simple yes or no. The questions can be serious or silly, like "Will I be rich one day?" or "Will I sunbathe on the moon before I'm 40?" Pass around a Magic Eight Ball for the answers. Remind the children that it's all for fun!
Enjoy a Festive Meal
It's traditional for Russians to fast on Christmas Eve until they spot the first star in the sky. Christmas Eve dinners are typically meatless and may include sochivo, a rice or wheat porridge with honey, poppy seeds, fruit, and chopped walnuts, as well as beetroot soup, vegetable pies, salads, and potatoes.
On Christmas Day, heartier dishes such as roast pork, pierogis, aspic, and stuffed pies are served. Dessert options include pryaniki, or honeybread cookies, kozulya, which are Russian Christmas cookies, and fruit pies.