With Christmas coming up in a few days, I've read up a bit on Russian Christmas Customs. Although we ourselves are an Orthodox family and my husband is Russian, we don't necessarily follow all these customs. However, I enjoy reading about them and occasionally take part of an old tradition when it sounds appealing and doable for our family.
Thirteen days after Western Christmas, on January 7th, the Russian Orthodox
Church celebrates its Christmas in accordance with the old Julian calendar (Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th and several Orthodox families exchange gifts on this day). We have talked many years of doing part of our gift celebration on Russian Christmas but it just never happens. We do leave our tree up until the day after Russian Christmas though and I always wish my husband a Merry Christmas once again.
We, as most Orthodox in America, celebrate Christmas according to the western calendar on December 25th. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Christmas is the third most important feast (Pascha, or Easter, and Pentecost are the most important).
The 12 days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany are called Christmastide (traditionally falling on January 6th, Epiphany marks the revelation of Jesus Christ as God - though of course that manifestation occurred in the womb - and is the day we celebrate the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan). These holy days have been called the 12 Days of Christmas and are usually celebrated by visiting friends and relatives.
The Holy Supper, apparently, is comparable to a Carpotho-Rusyn and Ukrainian meal and is served on Christmas Eve. A white table-cloth symbolizing Christ's swaddling clothes cover the table. A white candle symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World adorns the center of the table. There are traditional ethnic foods served including Kutya, a special porridge made of wheat and other grains served with honey and poppy seeds. The dish symbolizes hope and immortality while the honey represents happiness. Other dishes include: Sauerkraut Soup, Parsley Potatoes and Red Wine. There is no meat as this meal, though festive in nature, still takes place during the fast.
There is typically two services held in the Orthodox Church at Christmas. One is a vesper's service held on Christmas Eve while the Liturgy service is held on Christmas morning. The traditional Christmas Greeting"Christ Is Born!" can still be heard exclaimed by Orthodox Christians everywhere and can often be seen on Christmas cards. (It's always written in ours!) The traditional response is "Glorify Him!" We use this greeting in Church and in public throughout the Christmas holidays and for several weeks after it.
Children usually go Christmas Caroling on Christmas carrying an eight pointed star (also a Romanian tradition) and an icon in the center.
On the Sunday after the Nativity (Christmas) a Yolka (Christmas party) is held.
And there is the custom of Babouschka. Babouschka, according to old tales, was inhospitable and did not offer food or shelter to the Magi as they were traveling and searching for the Christ Child. Because of this inhospitable behavior, she still wanders the countryside in search of the Child Jesus. Along the way, as she has learned her lesson, she stops at homes of children and leaves them gifts.
Sources For More Information on Russian Customs:
The Treasured Traditions and Customs of the Orthodox Churches by Mary Paloumpis Hallick