Posts Tagged ‘Christmas services’

Russian Christmas Customs

February 25, 2018

GrandfatherFrostChristmas customs enjoyed in Russia have evolved in three phases.  These phases are Russia before Communism, Communist Russia, and Russia after the fall of Communism.

Old Russia  Christmas was a religious time before the Communists took over Russia.  The Russian Orthodox Church held services every day during the twelve days of Christmas.  Nearly everyone in the town and surrounding countryside attended the local church making the services standing room only.

Many people followed a form of Advent.  For thirty-nine days before Christmas they would abstain from eating certain foods like meat.  No food was eaten on Christmas Eve until the first star was seen in the sky.  Many a Christmas Eve found the children of the house peering out the window watching for that first star so the Christmas Eve feast could begin.

The Christmas Eve feast comprised of a twelve-course meal.  Fish was a staple of the meal instead of meat which they still abstained from eating.  The soup course most likely was borscht, a soup made with cabbage, onions, potatoes, beets, and carrots.  Two other popular dishes were kutyala, a rich, sweet porridge made of wheat berries, poppy seeds, and honey, and kissel, a mousse-like berry dessert.

Meat could be eaten on Christmas day.  Duck, ham, goose, pig, and other roast meats were the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner.  Other dishes included borscht, jellied sturgeon, blini (light buckwheat pancakes rolled with caviar and served with sour cream), pelmeni (mini-dumplings filled with beef and pork), and piroshke (savory, filled pastries).

Christmas trees were popular in the 1800s.  They were procured three days before Christmas and decorated with apples, tangerines, dolls made of dried fruit and candy, walnuts wrapped in gold foil, wooden ornaments, paper lanterns, and topped by a shining star.

Instead of Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost delivered toys door-to-door.  He did not go down chimneys.  He wore a red coat trimmed with white fur and had a long, snow-white, bushy beard.  Some children opened the gifts they received from Grandfather Frost on Christmas Eve; others waited until Christmas morning.

Communist Russia  When the Communists came into power, Christmas was replaced with a Festival of Winter.  They also changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.  The Russian Orthodox Church, however, continued to use the Julian calendar.  The churches that were allowed by the Communist Party to stay open held Christmas services on January 6 and 7, the date of Christmas using the Julian calendar.  Churches would be decorated with Christmas trees, icons of saints, and colored lights.  Congregations would sing Christmas hymns, but elsewhere there was no Christmas.

Many Christmas traditions were transferred to New Year’s, and Grandfather Frost arrived on New Year’s Day.  Christmas trees were banned by the Communists; but because the people wanted to keep the tradition, Joseph Stalin, in 1935, lifted the ban calling them New Year’s trees.

Many people put up their New Year’s trees on December 31 and left them up until January 13, Old New Year’s Eve).  The trees were decorated with toys, little dolls, colored lights, garlands, and topped with the red star of the Soviets instead of the star of the Magi.

Grandfather Frost remained the gift giver, but he arrived on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas or Christmas Eve.  Instead of a red robe he wore a blue one.  Instead of some of the more fun and frivolous gifts Grandfather Frost brought more practical gifts like clothing, shoes, and books though small toys did appear on occasion.

Grandfather Frost was also joined by Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden. The Snow Maiden also dressed in a blue robe or coat and knee-high boots.  They would be seen together in parades and many New Year’s events.

Post-Communist Russia  In 1991 with the arrival of Glasnost and Perestroika the Russian people were once again free to celebrate Christmas.  Russian Christians were once again able to worship without fear of persecution or death.

The big celebration still occurs on New Year’s Day with extravagant fireworks and organized games.  Grandfather Frost still delivers gifts on New Year’s Eve and is still accompanied by the Snow Maiden.  The big feast still includes such foods as borscht, blini, sturgeon, halibut, or herring, fresh fruits and vegetables (when available), bread, and sweets such as baba or kissel.

Without the fear of persecution many Russians are returning to church especially at Christmas and Easter.  Christmas services in Russian Orthodox Churches are well-known for their sacred music, and many who cannot make it to the services are able to watch them on Russian television.

Today’s Russian Christmas customs are still being developed.  Some are trying to bring back some of the old customs while others are creating new traditions.

Baba Romovaya cake recipe

Ingredients:
3 ea eggs
5 oz flour
5 oz sugar
–Icing:
5 oz cherry juice
2 tbsp rum
–Sauce:
4 tbsp rum
2 ea yolks
8 oz cream
1 tbsp starch

Method:
Beat up eggs with sugar with the mixer until there is foam. Stir in flour very gradually and make dough very quickly. Fill in the form half (the dough will rise twice) with dough very very carefully. Grease the form abundantly with butter and sprinkle with flour. Close all windows and doors to avoid draughts otherwise “baba” will catch a cold”. Put in a warm place, don’t move it. As soon as the dough rise up to the top, bake in the oven (180C) until it is golden. It is very important to keep the form of “baba” after baking. Put upside “baba” in the form down on the paper until it is cold. Don’t take it out of the form until it is cold. Mix rum with cherry juice in a large bowl and sink “baba” in this syrup. Beat up yolks with cream and starch, pour in rum. Put the mass on a “steam bath” (put a smaller pan with cream mass in a large pan with water) and bring to thickening. Pour the sauce over “Baba” before serving.

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Christmas in Australia

April 25, 2012

Christmas Down Under is quite different from Christmas in northern climes.  Australia’s Christmas customs are drawn from a unique blend of cultures, mixed with outback ingenuity, and a bit of hot weather.  While people in the northern hemisphere experience cold temperatures and dream of white Christmases, Australians celebrate a sun-and-surf Christmas.

Christmas tree on the beach

Christmas trees on the beach are a common sight on Christmas day in Australia.

The Christmas season arrives in Australia with much pomp and pageantry.  Cities and towns all over the continent welcome the season with elaborate parades.  Hundreds, even thousands, of people take part in these parades as costumed characters, bands, dancers, riders on amazing floats, and more.  Hundreds of thousands more people line the parade routes to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas and to welcome Santa Claus.

In 1838 the town of Hahndorf was founded by German Lutheran families who brought their German traditions with them.  On the night of December 5 the people of Hahndorf celebrate St. Nicholas Night.  Santa Claus dressed in his bishop’s apparel as St. Nicholas comes to town accompanied by two “Black Peters.”  They arrive in a candlelight parade giving treats to children along the parade route.  As St. Nicholas passes the townsfolk join the pageant which ends at a candlelight caroling service.  At the service people get to enjoy another German tradition as St. Nicholas passes out gingerbread men to the attendees.

Festivals are a big part of Australia’s Christmas season.  During the week before Christmas eve in Queensland the Christmas Lantern Festival is held.  There are parades to watch, concerts to go to, dances to participate in, and nightly fireworks displays.  Adults and children alike enjoy Christmas plays including an interactive “First Christmas” nativity scene where they can pet the animals and talk with the actors.  The highlight of the Christmas Lantern Festival is “The Night the River Sings,” a parade of decorated and lighted boats.  Commercial and private boats cruise the Brisbane River competing for prizes.

Another major festival is Darling Harbour’s 12 Days of Christmas festival in Sydney.  Once again a parade, led by people dressed as Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, opens the festival.  Every night of the festival people take in a number of acts including acrobats, jazz musicians, barbershop quartets, actors, Christmas carolers, and rock-and-roll musicians.

Australians love to get together to sing Christmas carols.  All across the continent in many towns and cities people gather to sing carols by candlelight.  Carolers join large choirs, popular musical acts, as well as local church, school, and community groups for evenings full of good music under the calming light of dozens of candles.  The best known gathering is held in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens at a natural amphitheater called The Domain.  The Sydney Philharmonic Choir may, at times, be seen here.  This is one of the events televised throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia.  Revelers going to the “carols-by-candlelight celebration” held at the Emerald Lake Park can make the trek on the Puffing Billy Carol Train.  Riders board the train in the town of Belgrade, 25 miles from Melbourne.  A shiny steam engine pulls the train to the Emerald Lake Park where people enjoy and purchase food, Christmas goodies, and decorations as well as the singing.  All proceeds from the ride benefit the William Angliss Hospital.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a time for preparing for Christmas day.  While Christmas Eve is not a public holiday schools are closed and some offices close early.  Stores stay open so the last-minute shopper can buy all they need for the big day.  Christmas Eve church services, as well as services held on Christmas Day, are well-attended.  At St. Peter’s church in Adelaide there is even a children’s Christmas Eve service held late in the afternoon.  Carol singing is a major part of these services.

As evening turns to night children hang their stockings on the bedposts or near the fireplace.  Instead of cookies and milk, children in Australia leave chocolate cake or lamingtons, sponge cake cubes covered in chocolate icing and dried coconut, and ice-cold lemonade for Santa Claus and carrots, other vegetables, grass, and a bucket of cool water for Santa’s reindeer.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day arrives in Australia’s early summer months.  Temperatures often range from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 or more degrees Fahrenheit.  In this heat it is no wonder that many Australians spend Christmas day out-of-doors at the beach or some other venue.

Upon waking up, children dive into their stockings filled with wonderful treats and other goodies.  The presents under the tree, however, are left until the parents wake.  After the tree is plundered families head to an outdoor celebration, to grandparents’ home, or to an aunt and uncle’s home for more presents and a wonderful Christmas dinner with the extended family.  The beach is a favorite place for many Christmas celebrations, but one of Australia’s many parks is also a choice place to spend the Christmas holiday.  While the beach offers swimming, music, and pick-up games of volleyball and soccer, the park offers hiking, gaming, and lots of shade from the hot summer sun.  No matter where one goes there will be some great picnicking going on.

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