In old Russia, Christmas was as colorful as the country itself, a
happy, festive time lasting from December 25 through January 7. Gifts
were exchanged and families celebrated with a wonderful Christmas
Eve dinner followed by attendance at Otstoyat, the service at a Russian
Christmas trees went
on sale three days before the holiday with most decorations made
by hand. Many fathers were enlisted to carve matrioshka dolls to
hang on the tree. The little dolls came in various sizes, all of
which could be stacked so they would fit together inside the largest
doll. Some children opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, but others
were told that Grandfather Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa
Claus, wouldn't come until they were sleeping so they would find
their gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Russian cities
had no fireplaces so Grandfather Frost made house calls.
After the 1917 revolution
in Russia the religious celebration of the holiday was replaced
by the Festival of Winter. The Christmas tree became a New Year's
Eve tree; Christmas dinner became a New Year's dinner and Grandfather
Frost arrived on New Year's Day. The country's calendar was changed
so that it was 13 days ahead of the old one and Christmas became
January 7. Christmas followed New Year's!
In 1991, Russia enjoyed
its first official Christmas in over 70 years. Some Russian families
are indicating a preference for traditional customs and Grandfather
Frost is once again arriving on Christmas rather than New Years.
Christmas is again the time when gifts are exchanged, and New Year's
has its original traditions of fireworks, parties, and other such
festivities. The Russian people of today are now allowed to embrace
the customs of a genuine old Russian Christmas.