Christmas in Russia is celebrated on 7 January and marks the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On Christmas Eve (6 January), there are several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy. The family will then return home for the traditional Christmas Eve “Holy Supper”, which consists of 12 dishes, one to honor each of the Twelve Apostles. Devout families will then return to church for the “всенощная” All Night Vigil. Then again, on Christmas Morning, for the “заутренняя” Divine Liturgy of the Nativity. Since 1992 Christmas has become a national holiday in Russia, as part of the ten-day holiday at the start of every new year.
During the early-mid Soviet period, religious celebrations were discouraged by the official state policy of atheism until 1936. Christmas tree and related celebrations were gradually eradicated after the October Revolution. In 1935, in a surprising turn of state politics, the Christmas tradition was adopted as part of the secular New Year celebration. These include the decoration of a tree, or “ёлка” (spruce), festive decorations and family gatherings, the visit by gift-giving “Ded Moroz” (Дед Мороз “Grandfather Frost“) and his granddaughter, “Snegurochka” (Снегурочка “The Snowmaiden”).
Snowflake, a variation of The Snowmiden stories can be found here: Snowflake.
Principal dishes on the Christmas table in old Russia included a variety of pork (roasted pig), stuffed pig’s head, roasted meat chunks, jelly (kholodets), and aspic. Christmas dinner also included many other meats: goose with apples, sour cream hare, venison, lamb, whole fish, etc. The abundance of lumpy fried and baked meats, whole baked chicken, and fish on the festive table was associated with features of the Russian oven, which allowed successful preparation of large portions.
Finely sliced meat and pork was cooked in pots with semi-traditional porridge. Pies were indispensable dishes for Christmas, as well as other holidays, and included both closed and open style pirogi (pirozhki, vatrushkas, coulibiacs, kurnik, boats, saechki, shangi), kalachi, cooked casseroles, and blini. Fillings of every flavor were included (herbal, vegetable, fruit, mushrooms, meat, fish, cheese, mixed).
Sweet dishes served on the Russian Christmas table included berries, fruit, candy, cakes, angel wings, biscuits, honey. Beverages included drinking broths (kompot and sweet soups, sbiten), kissel, and, from the beginning of the 18th century, Chinese tea.
Traditionally, a cake was baked for this day, (Jan 17) and a bean hidden somewhere in the mixture and baked along with it. Whoever received the piece of cake with the bean was appointed King or Queen of the Bean for the night, and lead the company in songs and games. Here’s a recipe:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups currants
- 1 1/2 cups raisins
- 1 1/2 cups sultanas
- 3 tbsp brandy
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup candied cherries
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 dried bean
Grease a 12 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together and stir in the well-beaten eggs and the brandy. Sift the flour with a little cinnamon and fold into the mixture, then stir in the dried fruit.
Add the bean.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for three hours at 300′ F. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before turning out. Melt the honey and glaze the top of the cake, and decorate with the cherries.
Recipe source unknown
Magical Attributes: Generosity, goodwill, empathy, service, and depending on which goodies you put into the dough other blessings will abound.
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron
- 3 tablespoons hot water
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
- 1/4 sup sugar, plus 1/4 teaspoon
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 4 cups sifted flour
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 1/2 cups of any combination of currents, candied fruits, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips,
Soak the saffron in the hot water for 1 1/2 hours. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in the warm water. Mix the milk, remaining sugar, butter and salt; cool. Add the egg, milk mixture and saffron to the yeast, beat until smooth.
Sprinkle your combination of goodies with two teaspoons of the flour. Mix until evenly coated. Mix the rest of the flour with the yeast mixture…fold in your combination of goodies and put on a well floured surface and kneed until smooth.
Place in greased bowl, turn once, let rise in warm place until doubled, about an hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Knead dough twice.
Next it’s your choice…divide into 24 pieces and roll into small buns…or…devide in half and bake as loaves or roll into log shape and bake…cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake for about 10 minutes, reduce to 350 degrees and bake another 10 minutes..brush the tops with butter and bake 5 more minutes…always check to be sure it’s cooking properly as depending on which way you decide to make it it may take a little longer to cook.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
Beat the eggs until lemon color. Add the sugar. Beat. Grind up the anise seed with a mortar and pestle. Sift in the flour and add the ground anise seed. Drop by spoonful or use a (cookie press) onto a cookie sheet. Refrigerate overnight. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes (until cookies are firm, but not brown.) Store in a tin for several days before serving.
A festive, sweet, and light-colored bread, celebrating the return of the Sun, and the promise of next season’s harvest.
- 4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 tbs. butter
- 1 6 oz. packet Sun Maid Sun Ripened Dried Fruit Bits
- Equal amount chopped pecans
- 1 1/2 cup egg nog
- 1 pkg. dry yeast, in 1/2 cup warm water
Warm everything to room temperature. Pitch yeast in warm water, with a pinch of sugar. Mix flour, sugar, and salt; cut in softened butter. Mix in fruit and nuts. When yeast is good and frothy, mix in egg nog and yeast mixture and knead, adding flour as necessary. Let rise about an hour, punch down dough, form into a ball, and let rise again; preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake approximately 30-45 minutes until done.
Also known as Mithras (for the Persian Sun God), Saturnalia (for the Roman God of sowing and husbandry) and The Great Day of the Cauldron (from Druid Legend). It is the celebration of the return, or rebirth, of the Sun God, the Lord of Life. The celebrations were traditionally performed with the utmost solemnity, yet also with the highest rejoicing, for they resolve the paradox of Death and Rebirth. It represents the redemption of the world from Death and Darkness, as such it is a celebration of hope and joy amidst the gloom of winter.
The word Yule can be traced to the Celtic word `Hioul” which means wheel. This festival is an important point in the turning of the wheel of the year. Wreaths were made to symbolize this wheel, combining solar significance with tree-god significance. In ancient times Celts venerated trees as earthly representatives of the Gods, and it was felt that nothing short of the sacrifice of a mighty tree-god would cause the receding sun to take pity on them and return.
The burning of the Yule log was thought, through sympathetic magick, to increase the brightness and strength of the Sun, and would therefore bring good luck. Passersby would tip their hat or nod in salutation to the log. It is traditional to cut the log from oak or from a slow-burning fruit tree. The fire was lit from a piece of the previous years Yule log, which had been saved for this purpose. It was believed that this piece of the old log was a charm against fire, because it would refuse to burn until it was time to light its successor. A wish was also made while pouring wine over the burning log. It was believed to be bad luck if the log burned out before the 12 days of Yuletide were over. The ashes from the fire were spread in the fields to bring fertility to the next crop.
The Wassail bowl is another favored part of Yule celebrations. A large bowl or pot was filled with wassail, a mixture of cider and spices, and warmed over the Yule fire. The meaning of the word wassail is to be `hale or hearty’, and was the reason for the many toasts and salutations made from the bowl. It was also common for a procession to go to the nearest orchard and wassail the trees, thus blessing them and encouraging them to bear a good yield in the coming season. Libations of wassail were also poured over the roots of the trees, and cider drenched cakes were left in the forks of the older trees as an offering to the trees spirit.
Mistletoe is a regeneration symbol, considered to be the Essence of Life due to the resemblance of the juice of the berries to male semen. It was often gathered at this time. Evergreen boughs are also symbols of renewal. Evergreens were decorated to show honor to the tree spirits. The lights on modern trees were the candles of old, and represent the newly born sun god. Trees were not cut down and brought indoors.
The Sacred Seed of Life, having been nurtured by the foster mother Tailltiu, sprang forth from her breast, and was born. As the Wyrrd had foretold, here was the Child of Promise, son of the Gods and of the Earth. This baby was the Sun God, born in the Rule of Darkness, by the magick of the Gods. He was destined to grow in strength and knowledge. It was his task to bring back life and warmth to the land, and to wrest the power from the Lord of Darkness. To appease Cernunnos, who is at the peak of his strength, the people made sacrifices of roasted boar. To distract Callieach, the Wise Ones, or Witches invoked her to teach them of her mysteries. To aid the new-born Sun God the Celts felled a giant oak tree, and burned the log as a sacrifice, that the sun would gain strength from it, and grow.
Despite the powers of Cernunnos and Cailleach, the signs of new life were still upon the land. The sacred seeds which had fallen onto the barren branches of the winter-dead trees had come to life, and thus became the Mistletoe, which could be seen hanging from the oaks in the forests. Upon the land these sacred seeds had grown into the sweet smelling evergreens, and thus they were decreed to be a part of the celebration.
In honor of this magickal birth the people decorated the evergreens with candles and other symbols of life. The Druids told of Hu-Gadarn, the first druid, who had fled from the Atlalntean flood with his family on this day on the Ark, “The Great Cauldron” in which they brought the Essence of Life, and the knowledge of magick into the world. They would also tell tales of the Killing of the Wren, and of the Battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Throughout the land the people rejoiced, and there was light in the midst of the darkness.
From the earliest times the twelve days have been regarded as a time when supernatural events can easily happen, when the dead are close at hand and might often be seen.
One reads of the Wild Hunt, or the Fairy Host riding across the lands of Britain and Germany in particular, led by characters such as King Arthur, Woden, and Arawn, the Celtic god of the Underworld. In Ireland these supernatural hunters are known as the Yule Host, and in common with all these bands they are believed to gather up wandering souls and carry them away to the Otherworld.
The Twelve Days of Christmas stand outside of “ordinary time,” and celebrations focus on the return of the sun and a continuation of the eternal cycle of life.
The days from Christmas Eve on December 24th to Epiphany on the 6th of January (actually fourteen days as the first and last are not included in the twelve) really exist out of linear time. They are, in a sense, the fruit of the past year, one day for each month that has passed. Over the centuries the dates have changed – sometimes radically.
Here’s a list of commonly accepted dates and traditions:
- Day 0 – Dec 24 – Christmas Eve
- Day 1 – Dec 25 – Christmas Day, Birthday of Jesus, Mithras, Attis, Aion, Horus, Dionysus, and The Unconquered Sun.
- Day 2 – Dec 26 – St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, Day of the Wren
- Day 3 – Dec 27 – Mother Night, St John’s Day
- Day 4 – Dec 28 – Holy Innocent’s Day, Childremass, Dyzymas Day
- Day 5 – Dec 29 – Feast of Fools
- Day 6 – Dec 30 – Bringing in the Boar
- Day 7 – Dec 31 – New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay
- Day 8 – Jan 1 – New Year’s Day,
- Day 9 – Jan 2 – The Kalends of January
- Day 10: – Jan 3 – Snow Day
- Day 11 – Jan 4 – Evergreen Day
- Day 12 – Jan 5 – Twelfth Night
- Day 13 – Jan 6 – Epiphany,
When researching lore and magicks for the Twelve Days of Christmas I found a lot of disagreement as to the dates. So, from Wikipedia we have this explanation and additional information:
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 December). This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap.
Over the centuries, differing churches and sects of Christianity have changed the actual traditions, time frame and their interpretations. St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day), for example, is 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church.Boxing Day, on December 26, is observed as a legal holiday in parts of the Commonwealth of Nations. 28 December is Childermas or the Feast of the Innocents.
Currently, the twelve days and nights are celebrated in widely varying ways around the world. For example, some give gifts only on Christmas Day, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the twelve nights.
In England in the Middle Ages, this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. Continue reading
Wassailing the trees occurred on old “twelfth night”, the 12th night after Christmas eve, or January 17th on the old calendar. (Other calendars show the date as January 5th.)
Obviously traditions varied, but in Devonshire, Herefordshire and in other parts of the West Country of England (as well as elsewhere no doubt) families would hold a feast with cakes, cider and in some areas beer and ale too. After a time of eating and drinking everyone trooped out to the orchard to wassail the trees, and wake them up from winter for the coming season as well as scare off any bad energy, spirits or demons.
Ale, beer or cider soaked toast, in some areas special cakes, would be placed in the tree branches or in a fork of the tree, and then be splashed with more cider. Trees might be beaten with sticks, pounded on, pots and pans clanged, and in appropriate eras, guns that had been loaded with just powder (no shot) would be fired at the trees.
While this went on, others in the group bowed their heads and sang the special “wassail song”.
Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well
And so merry let us be
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree
Apples now, hat-fulls, three bushel bag-fulls,
tallets ole-fulls, barn’s floor-fulls,
little heap under the stairs
Hip Hip Hooroo
Hip Hip Hooroo
Hip Hip Hooroo
source: Folk Info
The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Jesus, (December 25).
This is a joyous fast in anticipation of the Nativity of Christ. That is the reason it is less strict than other fasting periods. The fast is divided into two periods. The 1st period is November 15th through December 19th when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil) is observed.
There is dispensation given for wine and oil on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Similarly, fish, wine, and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays. The 2nd period is December 20th through 24th when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil) is observed. There is dispensation given for wine and oil only on Saturday and Sunday during this period. Here are the guidelines:
- Meat – Abstain
This includes: beef, chicken, pork, turkey, elk, veal, lamb, deer, rabbit, buffalo, and so forth
- Dairy – Abstain
This includes milk, eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, cream, and so forth
- Fish – Permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays before December 20.
This includes fish with a backbone, but does not include shrimp, octopus, shellfish, squid, or other seafood. Note: (some permit fish Tuesdays and Thursdays also)
- Wine – Permitted only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays before December 20.
Some include all types of alcohol in this category.
- Oil – Permitted only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays before December 20.
Abstinence includes refraining from the food and drink mentioned above, as well as from smoking. The Eucharistic Fast means abstaining from at least the previous midnight for communing at a morning Liturgy.
The Purpose of Fasting
The purpose of fasting is to focus on the things that are above, the Kingdom of God. It is a means of putting on virtue in reality, here and now. Through it we are freed from dependence on worldly things. We fast faithfully and in secret, not judging others, and not holding ourselves up as an example.
Fasting in itself is not a means of pleasing God. Fasting is not a punishment for our sins. Nor is fasting a means of suffering and pain to be undertaken as some kind of atonement. Christ already redeemed us on His Cross. Salvation is a gift from God that is not bought by our hunger or thirst.
- We fast to be delivered from carnal passions so that God’s gift of Salvation may bear fruit in us.
- We fast and turn our eyes toward God in His Holy Church.
- Fasting and prayer go together.
- Fasting is not irrelevant.
- Fasting is not obsolete, and it is not something for someone else.
- Fasting is from God, for us, right here and right now.
- Most of all, we should not devour each other.
- We ask God to “set a watch and keep the door of our lips.”
Do NOT Fast
- Between December 25 and January 5 (even on Wednesdays and Fridays);
- If you are pregnant or nursing a newborn;
- During serious illness;
- Without prayer;
- Without alms-giving;
- According to your own will without guidance from your spiritual father.
In Sweden, January 13, St Knut’s Day, is the traditional day to discard the Christmas tree and end the season’s festivities. A children’s party is the favored way to strip the tree of its decorations, after which the children are free to “plunder” the edible treats and small gifts placed on the tree especially for the occasion.
This Christmas tree plundering is often accompanied by smashing up the gingerbread houses and eating them while discarding of the decorations. Finally, everyone “dances” the tree out the door. Singing special songs, they pick up the tree and toss it out into the snow.
However in Finland, the tradition is quite different:
Called Nuutinpäivä, there has been a tradition somewhat analogous to modern Santa Claus, where young men dressed as a goat (Finnish: Nuuttipukki) would visit houses. Usually the dress was an inverted fur jacket, a leather or birch bark mask, and horns. Unlike Santa Claus, Nuuttipukki was a scary character.
The men dressed as Nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and typically demanded food from the household and especially leftover alcoholic beverages. In Finland the Nuuttipukki tradition is still living at areas of Satakunta, Southwest Finland and Ostrobothnia. However, nowadays the character is usually played by children and now involves a happy encounter.
A proverb from Noormarkku says:
Hyvä Tuomas joulun tua,
paha Knuuti poijes viä
“Good Thomas brings Christmas,
evil Knut takes it away.”