Top Tips for Visiting Russia at Christmas
If you’re crazy about holidays and celebrating it once is not enough, then you should know that Christmas in Russia hasn’t even started yet. Russians rejoice it on January 7, after the “Julian” calendar, so there’s still plenty of time to pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable European getaway. In spite of a long and tragic history, the Russian Orthodox Christmas is packed with lots of interesting traditions and delicious food, too. Here are some tips to help you spend a memorable holiday.
The Russian Christmas tradition
Russian Christmas is a day of joy and ritual. The orthodox people follow a vegetarian fast for about 6 six before the holiday; they can’t attend gatherings or parties during this period. The traditional Christmas dinner is meatless; the dishes are vegetarian and one meal in particular is a must-try. It is called “Kutya”, and it is made of wheat and berries. Some other ingredients are poppy seeds and honey, and the whole significance of this recipe is that it promises happiness and achievements in life for those who make it at Christmas. After the serving of “Kutya”, it’s time for the holy supper, which is filled with symbolism.
The food is served in a very festive, merry way. Families place white table cloths on the table (which symbolize Christ’s swaddling clothes), candles (that symbolize light of the world) and a round loaf of bread (Lenten bread). There are 12 foods available, each one symbolizing the 12 apostles. At the end of the supper, families open gifts and spend quality time with their loved ones by the Christmas tree. As an international tourist in Russia you should know these things in advance, in case you receive a Christmas dinner invitation.
Celebrate Christmas in Moscow
In wintertime, temperatures fall as low as -9 degrees in Moscow, so your chances of having a white Christmas are guaranteed. The beautiful Russian capital is like a fairytale during the holiday season, so it won’t really matter that outside is freezing. The famous Red Square will be completed illuminated with festive decorations; what’s amazing is that in Russia, Christmas last for almost a month. Some people celebrated on December 25 but also on January 7, after the Julian calendar.
Throughout the Christmas holiday, Russia has a lot of elements that are different from a traditional Christmas. Santa Claus for instance, is replaced by the Snow Maiden and Grandfather Frost; the costume is not red but blue, and the New Year, is also celebrated on January 13, not only on December 1st.
Activities for Tourists during Christmas in Russia
International tourists, who want to spend Christmas in Russia, should know that the markets are opened on Christmas Eve. Check out the acclaimed Strasbourg Christmas Market on Manezh Square or the Sokolniki Park. Throughout the months of December and January, you can also stop by the Christmas Market, which is located at Crocus City. These places are excellent for those who want to purchase traditional Russian handcrafts such as “lapti” shoes, “ushanka” hats or babushka dolls; lots of Christmas ornaments are also available, as well as seasons delicacies like buttered pancakes, honey-bread cookies, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and Viennese waffles.
As for the activities, tourists can check out the outdoor ice rinks, the Russian Winter Festival in Izmaylovsky Park (that starts on December 25 and ends on January 5) or stop by the Christmas Village to attend the All-Russia Exhibition Center; there will be many interesting activities available for locals and travelers alike, such as games of ice chess, ice sculpture competitions and troika rides.
Planning your Christmas holiday in Russia is an excellent way of enjoying the holiday twice. Apart from the attractions that involve snow and ice, there are many other iconic places of interest you can’t miss out while in Russia. The Kremlin for example, is Moscow most imposing edifice; the building dominates the skyline and it offers visitors superb landscapes. While here, make sure to visit Cathedral Square, the Armory and Ivan the Great Bell Tower.
Russia in winter is outstanding. The holiday season makes it even more appealing, so if you want to go someplace magical this winter, this is your chance of enjoying the best Christmas you’ve ever had.
By William Taylor