Christmas in Moscow

Grandfather Frost waves during a welcome ceremony near Red Square, with St. Basil Cathedral in the background, in Moscow. Grandfather Frost waves to the crowds near Moscow's Red Square

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Moscow correspondent Steven Rosenberg tells of Santa's female sidekick and the comeback of Christmas after communism.

What Christmas traditions are kept in Moscow?

Russian Orthodox Christmas is on January 7. But for most Russians, New Year's Eve is the main celebration; that's because, for more than 70 years, communism waged war on religion and Christmas was not an official holiday. In the USSR the trappings of Christmas were transferred to the New Year festival (for example, 'Christmas Trees' became 'New Year Trees').

As for Father Christmas, he was turned into the non-religious 'Grandfather Frost'. By the way, Russia's Santa also has a female sidekick: 'Snegoorochka' ('The Snow Maiden'). Russians also celebrate the 'Old New Year' on the night of January 13th (under the old Julian calendar this used to be New Year). Any excuse for a party.

Steven Rosenberg Steven Rosenberg: white Christmas is a near certainty
What do people typically eat and drink on Christmas Day?

Russian turkeys can breathe a sigh of relief: they are not a traditional Christmas dish in Russia. Food wise, anything goes here today.

Does religion play a major part in the celebrations?

Since the fall of communism, Christmas has been making a comeback; Orthodox believers attend mass on the night of January 6 and services can last several hours. Russian TV has live coverage.

How do the people of Moscow see in the New Year?

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Russian turkeys can breathe a sigh of relief: they are not a traditional Christmas dish in Russia”

End Quote Steven Rosenberg Moscow correspondent

New Year is very much a family affair. The dinner table is normally groaning under the weight of food: my Russian mother-in-law usually cooks 'Olivier Salad' (potatoes, eggs, peas, mayonnaise), Russian julienne (mushrooms and sour cream in a little pot) and 'Herring Under a Fur Coat' (herring under a 'coat' of vegetables). Mandarins are a must, too. A few minutes before midnight, the family toasts the passing year. It's traditional to watch the President's New Year message (Russia's equivalent of the Queen's speech). Then, as the Kremlin bells strike midnight on TV, it's time to toast the New Year. In the UK, the film Wizard Of Oz always seems to be on at Christmas; there's a Russian movie which is wheeled out each year on New Year's Eve: 'The Irony of Fate - Enjoy your bath!'.

Where/how will you spend Christmas this year?

On call in Moscow. We'll try to have some turkey, though, at home. And we're almost guaranteed a white Christmas!

Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?

Although I'm Jewish, when I was small, my family used to go to my grandparents' house on Christmas Day for a turkey lunch. It was more like a birthday celebration, really, because the whole family thought that December 25 was my granddad's birthday. Only after his death did we discover that his real birthday had been in January. He'd kept that secret so that we wouldn't miss out on the festivities.

Read about Christmas in South Africa.

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