Visit Russia during winter, with the added atmosphere of Christmas. Don't forget
this is the Orthodox Christmas which falls after the Western Christmas! This means if you
plan things well, you can have two festive highlights to your year!
The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar; therefore, its Christmas celebration falls on January 7th, 13 days behind the West. It's a day of both solemn ritual and joyous celebration. Before this date, Orthodox Russians fast for six weeks. This Fast is completely vegetarian and requires that there must not be any parties or gatherings.
After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia, along with other religious celebrations. It wasn't until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was openly observed. Today, it's once again celebrated in grand fashion, with the faithful participating in an all-night Mass in incense-filled Cathedrals amidst the company of the painted icons of Saints.
Christmas in Russia is associated with a number of other practices, which represent a blend of tradition from Russia's Christian and pre-Christian past. It was once common practice, on Christmas Eve, for groups of people masquerading as manger animals to travel from house to house singing songs known as kolyadki. Some kolyadki were pastoral carols to the baby Jesus, while others were homage's to the ancient solar goddess Kolyada, who brings the lengthening days of sunlight through the winter. In return for their songs, the singers were offered food and coins, which they gladly accepted before moving on to the next home.
Throughout Russia, after Christmas Eve services, people carrying candles, torches, and homemade lanterns parade around the church, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents did in the past. The Krestny Khod procession is led by the highest-ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church. After the procession completes its circle around the church, the congregation re-enters and sings several carols and hymns before going home for a late Christmas Eve dinner.
Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important dish is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of berries, wheat or other grains that symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds that ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to the tradition, if kutya sticks there will be a great honey harvest.
Moscow Winter from the Air