While December 25 may have passed and you may have gotten rid of your tree, Russians haven’t even begun celebrating Christmas yet. Did you know that Russians recognize Christmas on January 7? Let’s dive into why Russians focus on celebrating Christmas in January instead of December.
Gregorian Calendar vs. Julian Calendar
Do you think Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7 just because? Guess again. While most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, Russians use the Julian calendar as their preferred solar dating system. Under the Gregorian calendar, we celebrate Christmas on December 25. As of right now, there is a 13-day difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendar. This difference in time explains why Russians, who use the Julian calendar, acknowledge Christmas 13 days after December 25. Now that we understand why Russians focus on celebrating Christmas in January, let’s discuss what actually happens.
Quick Facts About Russian Christmas
- Begins celebration on January 7, due to following Julian calendar
- Involves a 40-Day Nativity Fast
- Calls for caroling and fortune-telling
Russian Christmas Traditions
There are certain Russian Christmas traditions that specifically reflect the rich history of Russia. Long-standing customs include fortune-telling, caroling and following a very particular 40-Day Nativity Fast leading up to Christmas Eve.
Beginning in Russia’s pre-Christianity time, this tradition is performed by young, unmarried women. They get together at a house or a Russian sauna, wearing nightgowns and keeping their hair loose. Married men and women are not allowed to attend this fortune-telling tradition. Older women perform word-based rituals that are created to bring prosperity to their families. In modern day Russia, the fortune-telling tradition involves the entire family.
One of the first exercises that are performed involve a bowl filled with rice. After a question is asked or a wish is made, you must put your hand into the bowl, take it out and count how many grains you have stuck to your hand. If it is an even number, that means your wish will come true soon. If it is an odd number, that means your wish will still come true, it will just take some time.
Another exercise that is performed includes cups or mugs. Everyone has a cup or mug that they can choose, but each one will be filled with something different. The contents may involve a ring, a coin, an onion, salt, a piece of bread, sugar or water. Each object has symbolism attached to it and represents the near future. Here is what each object means:
- Ring = Wedding
- Coin = Wealth
- Onion = Tears
- Salt = Difficult Times
- Bread = Abundance
- Sugar = Happiness and Laughter
- Water = Life Without Changes
Traditionally, the carols are sung a cappella. Let’s look at the top 3 carols that are involved in the Russian Christmas tradition.
Firstly, the most popular Christmas song is “The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree” (В лесу родилась ёлочка). This song is about a fir tree that is nurtured by the forest and becomes a decorated Christmas tree as a result. Take a moment and listen now!
The second most popular Christmas song is “God is With Us” (С нами Бог). This song is particularly for the Russian Orthodox Church. It is known as one of the most beautiful choral pieces from Russia. You can hear the song here:
Lastly, this Christmas song is popular around Russian: “Carol of the Russian Children” (Кэрол российских детей). The music reflects the harshness yet astounding beauty of the winter Russian countryside. To go with the title of the song, the lyrics are childlike. Take a listen!
Also known as Christmas Lent, this long period of fasting focuses on reflection and refocus on the spiritual life. Essentially, the Nativity Fast is very similar to the fast of Easter Lent, except it isn’t as strict. Foods that are avoided include meat, fish, dairy, olive oil and wine. However, some foods are allowed at certain times. For instance, fish, oil and wine can be consumed on Saturday and Sunday. Overall, the attention is set on deep prayer and reflection during this time.
Tale of a Russian Christmas
All in all, we hope you have a better understanding of why Russians focus on celebrating Christmas in January. The factors of the Julian calendar is the larger influence and there are ample Russian Christmas traditions that are celebrated. Perhaps you can speak to your Russian girl about her upcoming Christmas, she may really appreciate that!