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Russian Christmas

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In the traditional Russian Christmas, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until January 6th Christmas Eve, when the first evening star in appears in the sky. Then begins a twelve course supper in honor of each of the twelve apostles - fish, beet soup (Borsch), cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit and much more.

Hay is spread on the floors and tables to encourage horse feed to grow in the coming year and people make clucking noises to encourage their hens to lay eggs.

On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches which have been decorated with the usual Christmas trees (Yelka), flowers and colored lights. Christmas dinner includes a variety of different meats - goose and suckling pig are favorites.

The legend of Father Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, arose in the cities. It was said that Father Frost lived deep in the woods of Russia and came to town in a sleigh. Unlike his Western counterpart, he did not come down the chimney (the houses in Russian cities had no fireplaces). However, he did make house calls-delivering toys and gifts door-to-door.

Father Frost had a reputation for bringing gifts to good children and forgetting those who were naughty. He could be both jolly and cold hearted. During the Christmas season, he would roam the streets, handing out toys to well-behaved children-and overlooking those who behaved badly.

Traditionally, Father Frost wore a red coat and hat trimmed in white fur. Sometimes his outfit made him more like a wizard than the Santa Claus known in Europe. But like Santa's, his beard was snow-white, bushy, and long. Some children opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, but others were told that Father Frost wouldn't come until they were fast asleep, and they would find their gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Russian children look forward to the arrival of Father Frost every bit as much as Western children look forward to a visit from Santa Claus today.

The Christmas tree (Iolka) is yet another tradition banned during the Soviet era. To keep the custom alive, people decorated New Year's trees, instead. Iolka comes from the word which refers to a fir tree. But in Saratov people usually bought pine tree as they are more common here. The custom of decorating Christmas trees was introduced to Russia by Peter the Great, after he visited Europe during the 1700's.


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