"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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Russian flag S Rozhdestvom Kristovym
Russian tree
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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 Orthodox church.

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.