Do you wonder how the Moscow Ballet dancers celebrate Christmas and the New Year when they are on tour? Do not feel sorry for them! The Russian Eastern Orthodox Church uses a totally different calendar than the rest of the Russia—the Julian one, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. This means that Christmas Eve and Day celebrations take place on January 6 and 7, almost a week after the dancers arrive home!
Russian Christmas traditions include the folk character Ded Moroz who emerged at the end of the 19th century. One of the first major cultural introductions of this character was in the 1873 play The Snow Maiden, by Alexander Ostrovsky, one of the most important playwrights in Russian history. (The first Nutcracker performance occurred in 1892.) It was written as a fairytale and eventually rewritten as an opera, which has been performed many times.
Snow Maiden Lana Popova
The play included the characters of Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden, and her grandfather Ded Moroz. He was based on a very old character in Russian mythology. Ded Moroz, which translates roughly as “Grandfather Frost,” has a long white beard, wears a fur-lined hat, has an sleigh pulled by animals, and delivers presents to well-behaved children. Ded Moroz was a good omen, because he was associated with particularly brutal winters, which, in Russian folklore, means a good harvest the following year.
Ded Moroz cape creation in process
He wears a big, fur-lined coat, often an icy blue or patterned white, along with traditional felt valenki boots. He also carries a magical staff. His sleigh is a Russian style troika, pulled by three horses and he is usually accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka, who is similarly dressed in white or very pale blue.
Today, Russia’s “holiday marathon” starts with the Gregorian calendar with Christmas on December 25 and finishes with Christmas on the Julian calendar, on January 7. Gift-giving largely happens then, and when wishing someone the tidings of the season, you say “S Novym Godom” or “Happy New Year.”