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Fun Facts About Christmas in Russia for Kids

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Discover the Magical World of Grandfather Frost: Fun Facts for Kids about Russian Christmas Traditions & History

Russian Christmas traditions are filled with enchanting tales and vibrant celebrations that have been passed down for generations. These tales are a staple of Christmas in Russia for kids of all ages. One of the most beloved figures in these traditions is Grandfather Frost, known as Ded Moroz in Russian. Grandfather Frost is a magical character who brings gifts to children during the Christmas season much like Santa Claus. 

Let’s explore the origins of Grandfather Frost and discover the fascinating customs and rituals associated with Russian Christmas. 

But before we dive to deep into the history, here are 25 quick tidbits that you will get your kids curious about Christmas in Russia!

  1. Julian Calendar: Christmas in Russia is celebrated on January 7th because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

  2. Fasting Period: Before Christmas, many Russian Orthodox Christians observe a 40-day fasting period, abstaining from meat, dairy, and other animal products.

  3. Holy Supper: On Christmas Eve, families gather for the Holy Supper, a meal that includes 12 meatless dishes symbolizing the 12 apostles.

  4. Kutia Tradition: Kutia, a sweet porridge made of wheat, honey, and poppy seeds, is a traditional dish served during the Holy Supper.

  5. Ded Moroz and Snegurochka: Instead of Santa Claus, Russian children look forward to the arrival of Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), who bring gifts on New Year’s Eve.

  6. Yolka: The Christmas tree in Russia is called “yolka,” and it is traditionally decorated with ornaments, candles, and garlands.

  7. Religious Observance: Christmas is an important religious holiday in Russia, with many people attending church services, which often feature beautiful choral singing.

  8. Folklore and Legends: Russian Christmas traditions are steeped in folklore and legends, including tales of magical creatures like the Domovoi and Rusalki.

  9. Fortune Telling: Some Russian families engage in fortune-telling rituals on Christmas Eve to predict the future for the coming year.

  10. Winter Wonderland: Most parts of Russia see significant snow during the holiday season. In fact, in December of 2023 Moscow broke the daily snowfall record!

  11. Winter Sports: Many Russians enjoy outdoor activities such as ice skating, sledding, and cross-country skiing during the Christmas season.

  12. New Year’s Celebration: In Russia, the New Year is often celebrated more enthusiastically than Christmas, with fireworks, parties, and the exchange of gifts.

  13. School Break: Russian schools have a winter break that includes both Christmas and New Year’s, providing children with a festive and leisurely holiday period.

  14. Saint Nicholas Day: In some regions of Russia, Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th is celebrated with small gifts and acts of kindness.

  15. Winter Wildlife: Russian children often encounter wildlife such as reindeer, foxes, and hares in the snowy landscapes during the Christmas season.

  16. Winter Crafts: Making traditional Christmas crafts like ornaments, decorations, and intricately designed snowflakes is a popular activity for kids.

  17. Christmas Carols and Hymns: Russian children enjoy singing traditional Christmas carols and hymns, which often have a rich historical and religious significance. Check some out here!

  18. Festive Markets: Leading up to Christmas, festive markets known as “yarmarki” pop up in towns and cities, offering crafts, treats, and gifts.

  19. Winter Poetry and Literature: Children in Russia often learn and recite winter-themed poems and stories as part of their Christmas celebrations.

  20. Holiday Baking: Families come together to bake traditional Christmas treats such as piroski (small stuffed buns) and gingerbread cookies.

  21. Winter Astronomy: In Soviet Russia, during the space race, it was common to see Christmas cards with Santa in a spaceship!

  22. Ice Sculptures: In some areas, artists create elaborate ice sculptures, adding a touch of artistic wonder to the festive season. Tomsk, Russia hosts an ice sculpture festival!

  23. Christmas Pantomimes and Plays: Theatrical performances, including pantomimes and Christmas plays, are popular entertainment for families during the holiday season.

  24. Winter Walks: Families enjoy taking walks in snow-covered landscapes, appreciating the serene beauty of winter during Christmas. Here is a fun walk around a snowy Moscow to get you into the spirit!

  25. Acts of Kindness: Christmas is a time for teaching children about compassion, generosity, and the spirit of giving to those in need. This is a common custom in all cultures, but is always a great reminder to end with.

The Origins of Grandfather Frost and Ded Moroz

The origins of Grandfather Frost can be traced back to ancient Slavic mythology. In pre-Christian times, the Slavs celebrated the winter solstice as a time of renewal and the return of the sun. They believed that Grandfather Frost was the personification of winter and the bringer of good fortune. Over time, the figure of Grandfather Frost merged with other folklore characters and eventually became associated with Christmas.

In modern Russian Christmas traditions, Ded Moroz is depicted as an old man with a long white beard, dressed in a flowing blue or red robe, and carrying a staff. He is often accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, who helps him distribute gifts to children. Ded Moroz and the Snow Maiden are central figures in Russian Christmas festivities, bringing joy and excitement to children all over the country.

The Significance of the First Star and Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds in a jar

On Christmas Eve, Russian families gather for a festive meal known as the Holy Supper. The Holy Supper begins with the appearance of the first star in the night sky. This star is believed to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus. It is customary for each family member to make a wish when they see the first star.

Another important element of the Holy Supper is the use of poppy seeds. Poppy seeds are sprinkled on the tablecloth to represent the number of grains of wheat in a good harvest. The abundance of poppy seeds is thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. This tradition serves as a reminder of the importance of agriculture in Russian culture and the gratitude for a bountiful harvest.

Russian Orthodox Church and its Role in Christmas Celebrations

Christmas lights in Russia

In Russia, Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar observed by the Russian Orthodox Church. As a religious holiday, it holds great significance for the Russian people. The Christmas season begins with a period of fasting and prayer, known as Advent, which lasts for 40 days. This period of preparation culminates in the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7th.

The Russian Orthodox Church plays a central role in the Christmas celebrations. Churches are beautifully decorated with icons and candles, and special services are held to commemorate the birth of Christ. The liturgy is accompanied by the singing of hymns and the reading of biblical passages. The focus is on the spiritual aspect of Christmas, emphasizing the importance of faith and the message of love and peace.

The Difference in Dates: Christmas Day on January 7th

While many countries celebrate Christmas on December 25th, in Russia, the official Christmas day is observed on January 7th. This is due to the use of the Julian calendar by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by most of the Western world. The date of January 7th corresponds to the date believed to be the birth of Jesus Christ according to the Julian calendar.

The celebration of Christmas on a different date adds to the uniqueness of Russian Christmas traditions. It allows for a longer period of anticipation and preparation, extending the joy and festivities well into the new year. Russian families take this opportunity to spend quality time together, creating cherished memories and strengthening their bonds.

New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve: Celebrating the Holidays

In Russia, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with great enthusiasm and is considered the most important holiday of the year. The festivities begin on December 31st and continue into the early hours of January 1st. Families and friends gather to share a festive meal, exchange gifts, and welcome the arrival of the new year.

On Christmas Eve, which is January 6th, Russian families come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The evening is filled with traditions and rituals that have been passed down through generations. A special meal, known as the Holy Supper, is prepared with a variety of traditional dishes, including beetroot soup, honeybread cookies, and other delicacies.

The Symbolism of Baby Jesus and the Wise Men

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ holds deep meaning in Russian Christmas traditions. The figure of Baby Jesus is highly revered and symbolizes the hope and joy brought into the world through his birth. Russian children learn about the story of Baby Jesus and the Wise Men who traveled from afar to bring gifts.

In some regions of Russia, children reenact the journey of the Wise Men, going from house to house, singing carols, and receiving small gifts in return. This tradition is a reminder of the importance of giving and sharing during the Christmas season. It teaches children the value of kindness and generosity, spreading joy to others as the Wise Men did with their gifts.

The Story of Babushka and the Gift-Giving Tradition

A beloved character in Russian Christmas folklore is Babushka, which means grandmother in Russian. According to the legend, Babushka was an old woman who met the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. She was invited to join them but declined, saying she needed to finish her housework. Later, she had a change of heart and decided to follow them, carrying gifts for the baby Jesus.

Babushka searched for the Wise Men and the baby Jesus but could not find them. To this day, it is said that Babushka continues her search, visiting homes on Christmas Eve and leaving gifts for children. This tradition is cherished by Russian families, and children eagerly await the arrival of Babushka, hoping to receive a special present.

Modern Russian Christmas Traditions: From the Soviet Union to Present Day

Winter in Russia with Christmas Lights on a bridge

During the Soviet era, religious celebrations were discouraged, and Christmas was not widely celebrated. Instead, the focus was on New Year’s Eve, which became a major public holiday. The celebration of New Year’s Eve included a decorated pine tree, gift-giving, and festive meals.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the celebration of Christmas has regained its popularity and is now widely observed in Russia with decor even being adorned on the city streets. Many of the traditional customs and rituals have been preserved and incorporated into modern celebrations. Russian families now have the opportunity to experience the magic and beauty of both Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Fun Facts about Russian Christmas: Food, Decorations, and Superstitions

Russian Christmas traditions are filled with interesting facts and unique customs. For example, it is believed that if you find a coin hidden in your slice of bread during the Holy Supper, it is a sign of good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Another superstition states that if you step on a puddle on Christmas Day, you will have good fortune.

Traditional Russian Christmas decorations include ornaments made of straw, dried fruits, and colorful ribbons. These decorations add a festive touch to homes and are often handmade by family members. The Christmas tree is also a central part of the celebrations, adorned with lights, tinsel, and delicate ornaments.

We Hope You Enjoyed These Fun Facts About Christmas in Russia for Kids

Russian Christmas traditions are a captivating blend of ancient folklore, religious customs, and modern celebrations. The figure of Grandfather Frost, the significance of the first star, the story of Babushka, and the joyous festivities bring a sense of magic and wonder to the holiday season. Whether it’s celebrating on January 7th or enjoying the excitement of New Year’s Eve, Russian Christmas is a time for family, love, and cherished traditions.

As we delve into the enchanting world of Russian Christmas, let us embrace the beauty and meaning behind each tradition. From the delicious food to the heartfelt gift-giving, Russian Christmas is a time to come together and create lasting memories. So, this holiday season, let us open our hearts and minds to the magic of Russian Christmas and discover the joy that it brings to children and adults alike.

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