In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. As a result, New Years celebrations became much larger and came to include New Year gift exchanges and New Year trees. With the fall of Communism, Christmas finally regained its lost glory and was declared a national holiday in the country. Since then, it is openly celebrated on January 7th. The date is different from the rest of the world because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days.
On Christmas the family gathers around the table to honor the coming Christ Child. A white tablecloth is used to symbolize Christ’s swaddling clothes and hay is displayed as a reminder of the poverty of the place where Jesus was born. A tall white candle is placed in the center of the Table, to symbolize Christ – the “Light of the World.” A large round loaf of “pagach”, a special Lenten bread, is placed beside the candle to symbolize Christ – the “Bread of Life”.
The father begins the Christmas meal by leading the family in the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year and for the good things to come in the new year. The head of the family greets those present with “Christ is Born!” – the traditional Russian Christmas greeting – and the family responds with “Glorify Him!” The Lenten bread (Pagach) is then broken and shared. The bread is dipped first in honey to symbolize the sweetness of life and then in chopped garlic to symbolize life’s bitterness. The “Holy Supper” is then eaten. Traditionally, it consists of 12 different foods, symbolic of the 12 Apostles. After dinner the family goes to church for the Christmas Mass which lasts until after midnight.
Both New Year and Orthodox Russian Christmas involve feasting and Christmas presents exchanges between friends and family members. New Years is generally a bit grander holiday celebration with more focus on drinking and large gatherings. For this reason, food baskets and spirits baskets make great holiday gifts , favorites include chocolates, sweets, cookies, roasted nuts, fruit, cheese, caviar, spirits, and a variety of other gourmet treats. For many people, the holidays is the time to indulge in rich or expensive foods and drinks that they normally do not consume.