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Russian Orthodox Christmas – 7 January

In accordance with the old Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7 January, thirteen days after the Western Christmas on 25 December. Christmas, along with other religious celebrations, was banned throughout Russia after the 1917 Revolution. It was only in 1992, some 75 years later, that Christmas was once again openly observed. Today, the Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in splendid style, with faithful adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church often attending all night Mass at ornately decorated cathedrals filled with the aroma of incense.

It is traditional for families to gather together on Christmas Eve and share a special meal. Generally, family members will fast for the day until the first star appears. The meal that follows the fast contains no meat, with the main dish being Kutya. This symbolic food is made of various grains signifying hope, with honey and poppy seed symbolizing happiness and peace. This meal is referred to as “The Holy Supper” and is served on a table that is draped in a white cloth, symbolic of Christ’s swaddling clothes at his birth. Some hay is brought into the room as a reminder of the humble dwelling that Jesus was born in and a tall white candle adorns the centre of the table as a reminder that Christ is the light of the World. A round loaf of bread is placed next to the candle as a symbol of Christ being the bread of life.

The meal begins with the father leading the family in saying the Lord’s Prayer and offering a prayer of thanksgiving. Prayers requesting good things for the coming year are also offered. The mother of the family dips her finger in honey and makes a cross on the forehead of each one present, wishing them sweetness and goodness for the coming year. This is followed by everyone taking a piece of the symbolic bread and dipping it into honey and garlic to represent the sweetness and bitterness of life. Then the meal is eaten and Christmas presents are opened, after which the family goes to church and returns between 2 and 3 a.m. Christmas day is spent with neighbors and family members visiting one another throughout the day, eating, drinking and singing Christmas carols.

The Russian Orthodox Christmas is certainly a time spent observing solemn rituals and contemplating serious matters, but is also a most joyous occasion for families to gather together and enjoy each other’s company.

 



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