Monday, December 29, 2008

'S Rozhdestvom!'

Do you have a fur hat? Are you bundled up? It's time to head off to Russia for Christmas! But guess what? We are early! But I'm getting ahead of myself!

The key religion in Russia (now that it is allowed again) is Eastern Orthodox. Because the Orthodox church still follows a Julian calendar Christmas is not celebrated until January 7th. And for the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas the faithful participate in a fast. The Russian fast however is not like the fast we found during Eid. Fasting involves avoiding meat and declining to participate in gatherings and parties.

The largest part of the celebration is on Christmas Eve. Folks gather at the cathedrals for mass involving incense and carols. At one point in the service there is a preocession around the church led by the clergy.

After the service families go home for a feast (still meatless). This little bit from was too good not to pass on!

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important dish is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of berries, wheat or other grains that symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds that ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to the tradition, if kutya sticks there will be a great honey harvest.

I will not be sharing the food flinging tradition with my children!

On Christmas Day the fast is broken with a 12 course meal to honor each of the 12 Apostles. The meal includes (but I'm sure is not limited to) fish, Borsch (a beet soup), cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit, goose, suckling pig and many more dishes.

There are two figures commonly associated with Christmas. Babushka (Grandmother) is the bearer of the gifts. The legend tells that she was invited to go find the Chist Child with the Wise Men but declined due to the weather. She regretted her decision almost immediately and packed a basket with her own gifts and went in search of the Child. Along her way she distributed her gifts to good children.

There is also a figure (Grandfather Christmas) Dedushka Moroz but he is simply a figure head and not held as much more.

And that my friends is our little visit to Russia. perhaps this evening we can all have some Chinese together? See you there!