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Russia, St. Nicholas, and Christmas.

Christmas in RussiaMy LJ "snowymelodie" friend in her blog From Russia With Love tells us about the Russian Orthodox Christmas and how it is now celebrated.

St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that in the 11th-century Prince Vladimir travelled to Constantinople to be baptised, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. The feast of St. Nicholas was observed for many centuries, but after the Communist Revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the Communist years, St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost.

Before 1917, Christmas was celebrated in Russia in much the same way as it was in the rest of the world: on December 25, with Christmas trees and Christmas gifts, Saint Nicholas and the like. During the years of Communism after 1917, all formerly Christmas traditions were transferred to New Year's Eve, which became the traditional winter holiday and New Year's Eve is now to Russians what Christmas is to most people in the rest of the world, with one exception: there is no remnant of Christianity in the holiday. New Year's Eve is simply a chance to celebrate, to bring in the new year and get rid of the old. It is a chance to exchange gifts, have a day off and enjoy oneself.

Since 1992 Christmas is now once again being celebrated in Russia, after decades of suppression by the Communist government. But not near to the extent it once was. All the traditions have been firmly settled on New Year's Eve, and very few people take advantage of the new freedom to celebrate Christmas as they wish. The Russian Orthodox Church has made Christmas an official holiday, but it is celebrated on January 7th. On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches which have been decorated with the usual Christmas trees, flowers and coloured lights and Christmas dinner includes a variety of different meats - goose and suckling pig are favourites.

But to most Russians the New Year Eve is the bigger holiday and Christmas is just a day off work to have some meal together and nothing more.


I'm surprised that your Russian LJ friend said that Christmas used to be celebrated in Russia on the 25th of December because the Orthodox Christmas has always been at a different time. This page gives a list of all the different Christmas dates.
Note that the page you referred to states: "Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, the date on the Gregorian calendar which corresponds to 25 December on the Julian Calendar."

Edited at 2013-12-21 19:42 (UTC)
Yes, we now use the Gregorian calendar and so Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on the 6th of 7th of Janurary, which is the date they reckon coincides with when Christmas used to be celebrated according to the old Julian calendar.

I've just checked when the new calendar was adopted and it seems that it took several hundred years, with some countries changing to the new system while others stuck to the old one. I was surprised to discover that Russia didn't change until after the revolution, which in 1917 brought their dates in line with the rest of Europe.

So (assuming I have understood this correctly!) prior to 1917, while we were celebrating Christmas on 25th December, in Russia it was still only 13th December. By the time they were celebrating Christmas on what they thought was the 25th December, it was the 7th of January in Britain and Europe. In other words, it's complicated!
Hoping not to make confusion worse confounded this is how I see it:

Up to 1502 all accepted the Julian Calendar. Then the experts discovered that it took the earth 365.25 days to circle the sun and added on an extra day every 4 years to make up for this (hence leap years).

But because this arrangement was ratified by a Catholic Pope (Gregory X111) Orthodox Christian insisted on continuing to use the Julian Calendar for their liturgies.
The Coptic church here in Egypt celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7th.
A priest of the Coptic Rite lives only a few doors from me. Just Friday last he left in to me a booklet about their liturgies, etc.

I am interested in the Coptic Rite because it is based on the Gospel according to Mark and it is from one of their monasteries in France in the early 5th cent. that St. Patrick brought Christianity with its emphasis on hermitic life, pilgrimages, etc. to Ireland and established what came to be called "Celtic" spirituality.
To add that we have in Russia, from 1 to 10 January - public holidays (such as Christmas holidays)


Еще дополню, что в России у нас, с 1 по 10 января - официальные выходные дни (типа рождественские каникулы)
I agree. I work closely with a Urkrainian church.