Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)




Saturday, December 10, 2011

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD: RUSSIA

Christmas Greeting: Khristos Razhdayetsya! ("Christ is Born!) Response: Slavite Yego! (Glorify Him!")
St. Nicholas Tradition: St. Nikola (and the secular, Ded Moroz, "Grandfather Frost")
Highlighted Custom:  Holy Supper
St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia [source]


St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. There is a tradition that Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople in the 11th-century to be baptized, and returned with stories about miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Orthodox Churches in the East have been named for the saint, and even today, "Nikola" is one of the most common names for Russian boys. (more information about Russian and St. Nicholas here)



During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into "Grandfather Frost" (Ded Moroz), the Russian Spirit of Winter who brought gifts for the celebration of New Year's Day. He is always accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka ("Snow Girl"), a merry girl who helps Grandfather Frost provide the New Year party for children.  According to new tradition, Grandfather Frost and Snow Girl live in the town Veliky Ustug from which they begin their New Year journey by troika, a sledge drawn by three white horses.

Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babushka would bring gifts for the children.  The legend is that Babushka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babushka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly.

Christmas trees (Yolka) were also banned by the Communist regime, but people began to trim "New Year's" trees instead.  To this day, New Year's is more widely celebrated than Christmas, which is now allowed again as a religious celebration.

To read my post about Uncle Vova's Tree click HERE.

Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast from meat and dairy until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Since the Russian Othodox Church follows the old Julian Calendar, Christmas Day is January 7th. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. Kutya, a type of porridge, is the primary dish. It is very symbolic with its ingredients including various grains for hope, and honey and poppy seeds for happiness and peace.

"Christmas is Here" painting by Yaroslava Surmach Mills
Then begins a twelve course Holy Supper in honor of each of the Twelve Apostles - fish, beet soup or Borscht, cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit, and much more. A white table-cloth, symbolic of Christ's swaddling clothes, covers the table. Hay is brought forth as a reminder of the poverty of the Cave where Jesus was born. A tall white candle is placed in the center of the Table, symbolic of Christ "the Light of the World." A large round loaf of Lenten bread, pagach, symbolic of Christ the Bread of Life, is placed next to the Candle.

MORE PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTMAS IN RUSSIA:

The Miracle of St. Nicholas, by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Judith Brown, for ages 5-8 (click on the title to read my review).


The Miraculous Childby Alvin Aleski Currier, illustrated by Nadezda Glazunova. (ages 4-8)
"The Miraculous Child is a charming, delightfully illustrated Russian tale of a poor Russian family who entertains an angel unawares in a humble log home where a woodcutter, his mother, wife and children have almost nothing to eat, very little to trade or sell, and nothing for the Christmas Feast. The woodcutter encounters a little boy out in a field, shivering and cold. When he brings the lad into his home to share what little poor fare the family has, they discover that it's an angel they have invited in from the cold and a Christmas Feast is held that will never be forgotten.



Information source for St. Nicholas: www.stnicholascenter.org

4 comments:

Анна said...

I love your blog very much and reading with 9 old sister as well. I am russian and what i have to say, Christmas in Russia is mere religios holiday.
We have no Christmas traditions, no baboushka as it is written in net. Even I was surprised, when i read about it. We are pretty religios family. Used to fast 40 days (no meat, dairy, eggs are allowed) and we visit Christmas service at night, but we don't have any other customs. that's why i adore western christian customs

Wendy said...

Russia is such a huge country, maybe some of the more secular customs are only in certain areas? It is fun to add the fun customs in with the church traditions. (And without the birth of Christ, we wouldn't have Christmas!) You are very sweet to leave a comment - I am so happy you found my blog. Russia has a rich heritage of faith in your culture, and tradition! I adore your Eastern Orthodox Church, of which I am a part. And how ironic that I am leaving for St. Petersburg this morning!

David Schwartz said...

Great post, Wendy. I learned a lot. Have a safe trip. I seem to recall the term "Babushka" as also having another meaning:

From Miriam Webster's Dictionary:

Definition of BABUSHKA

1
a : a usually triangularly folded kerchief for the head
b : a head covering (as a scarf) resembling a babushka

2
: an elderly Russian woman
See babushka defined for kids »
Examples of BABUSHKA


Illustration of BABUSHKA

Origin of BABUSHKA

Russian, grandmother, diminutive of baba old woman
First Known Use: 1938

Wendy said...

Yes, David. And the older women (definintion #2) are called "babushka" because many of them wear definition #1 (a scarf) - always at church, but all the time, in the olden days.

Also, Anna - I did some research on the BABUSHKA book last year. This story seems to originally be from Italy (see my post about OLD BAFANA). Here's what I found:
A little trivia (or controversy, depending on how you look at it):
The inside title page of BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS says the story is "Adapted From A Russian Folk Tale"; and at the end of BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS is the text of a poem, "BABOUSHKA, A RUSSIAN LEGEND", written by an American, Edith M. Thomas, in 1907. In reality there is no such tale from Russia! But there is a legend very much like this from Italy - about Old Befana. (author and illustrator Tomie dePaola has a wonderful version of this story).