It always seems early to me when people take down their Christmas trees before the end of December, because growing up, we always had our Christmas tree up until after January 7, the date of Russian Christmas. While we always had our “real” (read: Santa Claus came) Christmas on December 25, my parents always bought my sisters and I some small gift as a celebration of the Russian date. As you might imagine, we thought we were the luckiest kids on earth to get not one but two Christmases each year. (Not to mention another traditional Russian holiday, St. Nicholas Day on December 6!).
The difference in dates goes back to the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. Russian tradition uses the Julian Calendar, rather then the Gregorian Calendar that we’re all familiar with. The Julian Calendar goes back to the time of Julius Caesar, while Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century. (For more on calendars- Julian, Gregorian, and otherwise- check out this exhaustive web page).
The earmark of any Russian celebration worth its salt is the feast, and Christmas is no exception. On Christmas Eve, a meatless meal made up of 12 foods (one for each apostle) is eaten. Kutya, a kind of grain pudding, is always served. (Check out the Veselka Cookbook for a great recipe for kutya, as well as the other traditional foods served at a Russian Christmas Eve dinner.) Then, after a midnight church service, there’s more feasting, and on Christmas itself, still more!
My tree will stay up until the weekend, and while I probably won’t find the time to cook a huge Christmas Eve dinner, my family will have our own quiet celebration of Russian Christmas.