RUSSIAN AND BELGIAN CHRISTMAS: 5 DIFFERENCES

Why I don't celebrate Christmas on 25th of December  

I am blessed to have two homes: in Moscow and in Antwerp. Moscow is the place where I was born and grew up , and it will always be in my heart. Antwerp though is where the heart is: Rabin, my husband, is a Belgian citizen, and we’ve been living here in A-town since September. As Belgium is my home base now, I can’t help but notice the many differences there are between the cultures of our two countries.


It's this time of the year when I get to remind people that there are a lot of religions, cultures and traditions, and Russia, the biggest country in the world, is very different. It is home to 39% of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and despite Soviet regime and 21st century’s ‘unpopularity’ of church procedures, it still remains a rather religious state.

 
Winter decorations in moscow. Photo by @hobopeeba, taken from http://ipai.ru

Winter decorations in moscow. Photo by @hobopeeba, taken from http://ipai.ru

 

If you ever send me a “Merry Christmas”, I will reply with something like “In two weeks :)”. Here’s why:

P.S. If you are by any chance interested in differences between Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Catholicism, here’s a list for you.

Celebration date

The biggest and most noticeable difference lies in timing: Orthodox Christmas is on January 7th. In the West, they use the Gregorian calendar proposed by Pope Gregory in 1582, but Eastern countries use Julian calendar for their religious celebrations. This calendar appeared much earlier: it was created by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. There is a 13-days gap between the dates, and this is why some people call Orthodox Christmas the Old Christmas.

By the way, not only Russia celebrates Christmas in January. Countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Egypt, and Ethiopia follow Julian calendar too.

P.S. there’s also a holiday called “Old New Year” but I'll blog about it more later in January😊

Nature of the event

Orthodox Christmas is a religious holiday and not everyone celebrates it. Half of my family is not very close to God, and we never went to church all together but I remember how my Mum would serve a rather festive dinner for us just to get together once again. Believer families, on the other hand, would go to the Mass and they would fast for 40 days to prepare their minds and souls for the second biggest Christian holiday.

I am pretty open-minded but I grew up in a rather religious country. That’s why I still can’t comprehend what do chimneys, reindeer and, most importantly, elves (like, these guys are surely from pagan mythology) have to do with Christianity….Oh, and songs about broken hearts. Hashtag pop culture🙄
 
Christmas market in Moscow, 2017

Christmas market in Moscow, 2017

 

Biggest night of the year

Unlike in the West, Christmas is not the biggest holiday of the year. New Year is. Traditions are pretty much the same though: we decorate our homes and set up [Christmas] trees, give presents and do family gatherings. We also do a countdown, listen to the President’s speech on TV, and when the clock strikes 12, make wishes and drink champagne🥂

No Santa

Yep, that’s right, there’s no Santa Claus in Orthodox festivities. I mean, there is Saint Nicholas but he has nothing to do with the holiday. Orthodox Christmas is about - surprise!- birth of Jesus Christ, not about a white-haired grandfather in red clothes.🎅

We have Father Frost (‘Ded Moroz’) though! His Granddaughter, Snegurochka (‘Snow Maiden’), is his truthful companion. You can check out other differences between Santa and Father Frost on a picture below (and here is a fun little read about Father Frost himself and the history of his appearance in the Eastern cultures).

 
picture taken from sennaya.com

picture taken from sennaya.com

 

Oh, and there are no Sinterklaas-like celebrations in Russia either. St. Nicholas’ Day is celebrated on 19th of December (the calendars, remember?) and is also a religious holiday.

Different menu

Since Eastern Christmas is a religious holiday, some people, as I mentioned earlier, practice fasting. The Nativity Fast starts on November 28th and ends right before Christmas, on January 6th. During this period of time, believers eat a vegetarian diet, and once fasting is over, they have to carefully transition themselves to normal eating. That’s why traditional Christmas meals are rather light. One of the main dishes is kutia or sochivo: kind of like a porridge made from wheat berry or rice, poppy seeds and honey; sometimes people add nuts and dried fruit like raisins.

New Year’s dinner is very different though. Typical festive table consists of: Olivier salad, Dressed beet and herring salad, open ‘sandwiches’ with red fish or red caviar, meat jello (eW!), fried or baked pig or poultry, and tangerines! My husband and I are so waiting for the traditional salads!

picture from bonappetit.com

picture from bonappetit.com

 

So this is it, guys! Hope this post answered your questions about my plans for Christmas and the reasons why my family doesn’t celebrate it in December. We still had a fancy dinner though and watched 1.5 parts of ‘Home Alone’ before collapsing to sleep😂

Merry Christmas and Happy holidays to you, loves!