We hope you had a good Christmas? Language Insight is heading east to find out what the festive season is like in Russia for its latest Christmas Around the World blog post.

The build-up

During the Soviet Union years, Christmas was rarely celebrated publicly, although this has recently begun to change. However, unlike in the west, Christmas is still regarded as a primarily religious occasion in Russia and as such, it is marked with numerous church services.

Advent in Russia is 40 days long, beginning on November 28th and lasting until January 6th. Following the Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church regards January 7th as Christmas Day and this means it is traditional to fast for the 39 days leading up to this.

The most popular dish served in Russia during the festive period is kutya, which is made of grains believed to symbolise hope and eternal life. It is flavoured with poppy seeds and honey and often served in one bowl that is shared by the whole family. Some people throw a spoonful of the porridge at the ceiling, and if it sticks it is seen as a sign of luck.

The Russian Santa

The primary gift giver in Russia is Ded Moroz, or Father Frost. However, he does not visit on Christmas Eve but New Year’s Eve, which is the main day of celebration during this country’s festive season. Ded Moroz is often accompanied by his granddaughter The Snowmaiden, or Snegurochka.

On the final evening of the year, children gather around the Yolka – a decorated pine tree – and call the names of Snegurochka and Ded Moroz. Their presence causes all the candles and the star on the tree to light up and Father Frost then hands out the gifts in person.

Ded Moroz is the only festive gift-giving figure to be accompanied by a relative. Most of the others work alone or with only the animals they use as transport for company. Some others, such as the Austrian St Nicholas, are accompanied by a persona who is the opposite of them, like a devil, who punishes children who have been bad. Aside from this distinction, Ded Moroz is very similar to Santa Claus, in that he wears a fur-lined suit and has a big white beard.

The feast

As we mentioned, some members of the Russian Orthodox Church will fast for 39 days prior to their Christmas. Once the first star is spotted in the sky on the night of January 6th – or Russia’s Christmas Eve – families reward themselves with a magnificent 12 course feast. The 12 courses represent the 12 apostles and although meat is still not permitted, it is certainly a hearty affair.

Known as The Holy Supper, the meal is served on a table with a white cloth – to represent the material Jesus was swaddled in as an infant – and sometimes decorated with hay so it symbolises the stable he was born in. Bread is the first dish to be served, and this is broken and dipped in honey and garlic to portray both the sweetness and bitterness of life.

Other dishes include beetroot soup, sauerkraut with cranberries, spices, carrot and onion rings, cabbage with millet, salads, vegetable pies, buckwheat porridge, biscuits and baked dried fruits. For dessert, families tuck into fruit pies and gingerbread or honey-flavoured cookies with dried fruit.

If you’re spending Christmas in Russia, why not share some of your own traditions below?


Get your Russian translations covered this Christmas by Language Insight.