Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Today I learned about Ded Moroz trand Snegurochka

Posted by Daniexmachina

Continuing on with our Christmas lessons, today I learned about Ded Moroz and Snegurochka, the Christmas characters of Russia, Ukraine and all the Slavic East Europe countries. First, let's start with a little history, because what story doesn't need history? We're talking Russia, so feel free to play with your matryoshka and do a vodka shot before you read. Originally, as in most every place with a gift-giver legend, St. Nicholas was that guy. He became the Patron Saint of Russia and they celebrated his feast day on the 6th, like the Dutch. However, because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, their December 6th is January 7th for the rest of the world. (Confusing, isn't it?) Nonetheless, that was the day of their St. Nicholas day celebration, which was their Christmastime. 

With the Reformation in the 17th century, Protestants decided they didn't want anything to do with St. Nicholas because he was such a Catholic figure. Secular gift-givers had begun to appear in other areas and this led to the introduction of Ded Moroz (Father Frost) in Russia. Unlike the Santa Claus of the States, Russia's gift-giver is tall and thin! Of course, he also wears traditional Russian garb and rather than flying reindeer he travels by troika, which is a sled pulled by three horses. He also travels with Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), which is his granddaughter. Snegurochka is originally from an interesting Russian fairy tale, but in this legend, she is granddaughter of Ded Moroz and assists him in his gift-giving. 

The truly interesting thing about Ded Moroz, is he was also already a Russian icon before becoming their gift-giver. He appears in early pagan tales as an evil sorcerer! He enjoyed freezing people and kidnapping children. He would take the children away in a giant sack and parents had to give him presents in order to get their children back! Somehow with the influence of Orthodox tradition as well as the myths of gift-givers, he evolved into a new figure. 

The fun of the season would be brought to a halt with the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin coming to power.  The Communist Party created an atheistic society and therefore Christianity and Christmas itself, were outlawed. In its place New Year's Day became the new winter holiday. In an attempt to keep traditions, families gathered around their yolochka (New Year's Tree) and exchanged presents. Secular Christmas would be no more, but Ded Moroz was alright. He was not church-related and he continued to deliver gifts during that time. Stalin made it a point to order all Ded Morozes to wear only blue coats because he didn't want them to be confused with our Santa Claus. 

In 1992, Christmas was allowed to be observed again. Because of the years of its absence, Christmas is now the lesser holiday and New Year's holds the place as the highest. Of course, their New Years is much like Christmas, so its not that sad. Their Christmas is essentially a fast and a feast. On Christmas Eve, they fast all day until after the evening worship service is over or until the first star appears in the sky. At that time, the festivities begin. No meat is permitted during that feast. It always includes a porridge called kutya, which is a symbolic food made of grains, seeds and honey which symbolize hope, happiness and peace. This meal is called The Holy Supper

There is much symbolism involved in this meal. The family gathers around the table, covered in white linen to symbolize the swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus. Hay is brought out to remind everyone of the poverty of the cave where the baby was born. Then a tall, white candle is lit in the center of the table. This symbolizes Christ as the "Light of the World". A large loaf of Lenten bread is placed next to the candle. The father of the family begins the meal with the Lord's Prayer, then a prayer of thanksgiving for all the year's blessings is offered as well. The father greets everyone by saying, "Christ is born!" Everyone in turn responds, "Glorify him!" The mother then blesses everyone at the table with a cross of honey on the forehead as she says, "In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, may you have sweetness and many good things in life. and in the new year." 

After the blessings, everyone eats bread dipped in honey to symbolize the sweetness of life and chopped garlic to symbolize its bitterness. Then they may eat the Holy Supper. After this, they do not do the dishes, they open Christmas presents. Following that, the family goes to church and returns around 2 or 3 AM. The following day, the Feast of the Nativity, entails visiting neighbors and family for drinking, eating and singing Christmas carols all day! 

So there you have it, Russian Christmas and New Year traditions all in one article! You've learned a lot today, good for you! 
С Рождеством!


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