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Christmas Comes Late to Russia

January 07, 2008 12:23 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Like a handful of other Orthodox countries, Russia celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. But for the former Soviet country, the festival stills bears signs of a Communist past.

30-Second Summary

Russians follow the old Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar employed elsewhere in Europe and in the United States.

Although nominally unified under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Orthodox churches are national entities and often act independently of each other. The Greeks, for example, like most Orthodox Christians, celebrate their Christian festivals in step with America.

Diversity in Orthodox practice is only matched by the variety of traditions post-Communist peoples have adopted to celebrate their newly won right to religious freedom.

Until about 20 years ago, the boundaries of Orthodoxy almost overlapped with the parameters of the Soviet empire, where tight restrictions existed on the practice of religion. Since the bloc’s collapse in 1989, many people have rediscovered religion—and Santa!

Those nationalities that have to wait a little longer for his arrival can take some comfort in the early start to festivities, which begin on Dec. 24, in acknowledgment of what Russians call the “Catholic Christmas.” Work does not resume until mid-January. This prompted one International Herald Tribune blogger to describe the season as “a slacker’s dream.” 

The Orthodox have adopted a number of Western customs, including Christmas decorations, which go up as early as November. Gifts are not mandatory, but are catching on.

However, the old Soviet Father Frost and his sidekick—the Communist equivalents of the gift-bearing Santa and his elves—are yet to be entirely replaced by their materialist Western counterparts.

Christmas, whether falling on Dec. 25 or Jan. 7, is also a much quieter affair in Orthodox countries than it is in the West. The big bash is on New Year’s Eve, which was an officially sanctioned holiday under Communism. Easter is the most important holy day in Orthodox countries. It falls on the same date for the whole Orthodox world.

Headline Links: 'Time for a Second Christmas/New Year's in Moscow'

Background: The Orthodox rediscover religion amid Communist practices

Two Christmases for Orthodox Christians in the United States

Historical Context: Centuries of divisions and conflict

Many countries, many orthodoxies
The Great Schism

Related Links: Russian government defends Santa


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