A Russian Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and those you hold dear!  As I am enjoying the comforts of family and celebrating with long-held traditions, my mind turns to the orphans we work with in Russia.  We’ve sent over 300 gifts to older orphans and young families this Christmas.  And today it’s my hope that each of them will feel a special connection with those they love and their community as they celebrate cultural traditions. 

I say “today” but Russian Christmas is actually celebrated on January 7th, thirteen days after our Western Christmas.  The difference in dates is based on the Russian Orthodox Church’s use of the Julian calendar. So really, if we start talking about Christmas we completely bypass the major Russian holiday-- New Year’s.  After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations.  Russians re-invented the New Year celebration to include a decorated tree, and introduced a character called Grandfather Frost, known as Ded Moroz.

It wasn’t until 1992 that the Christmas holiday was openly observed.  Now many traditions were quietly observed in the home are now are openly expressed by many.  The Christmas Eve meal, called “The Holy Supper,” is very traditional. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is often observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to the tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful harvest.  After dinner, no dishes are washed and the Christmas presents are opened. Then the family goes to church, coming home between 2:00 and 3:00 AM.

So whether you eat kutya or ham, or celebrate in December or January, I hope that you will take a few extra moments to delight in your family and friends.  Pray for those who miss out on the benefits of family.  Extend an invitation to your divorced co-worker.  And if your New Year’s resolution includes reaching out to children or orphans but you don’t know where to start, let me know!