Christmas is not amongst the biggest festivals of Russia and was not celebrated with grandiosity until recently. Only after the fall of Soviet Union, Russians have started celebrating Christmas on a regular basis. Christmas celebrations are quite different in Russia as compared to other parts of the world. Since majority of Russians still belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church and follow the Julian calendar, their Christmas celebrations arrive 13 days prior to Christmas. Festivities include processions around the church after Christmas Eve services. In this procession, people carry candles, torches, and handmade lanterns. This procession is headed by the highest ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church, also known as Krestny Khod. After completing a full circle around the church, the congregation returns to the Church to sing hymns and Christmas carols.
People then move to their homes to enjoy a festive Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas celebrations include special prayers and fasting for 39 days lasting until January 6 when the first star is sighted in the sky. The menu for fast consists of a twelve course meal. The traditional Christmas dinner in Russia is meatless. The main course includes a special porridge, called kutya, which is made from wheat berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and rest. Christmas celebrations in Russia are a blend of Russia's Christian and pre-Christian past. Russian people have a peculiar custom of people masking as manger animals on Christmas Eve. These masked people then travel from house to house singing traditional songs called "Kolyadki".
Some of these traditional songs were pastoral carols to baby Jesus while others are praises of ancient solar goddess Kolyada. People whole heartedly give coins and food to these singers. Russia has its own version of Santa Claus, known as "Babushka" who is a legendary gift giver. She is an old grandmother and has a legend associated with her. It is said that she refused to accompany the Three Wise Men to see Lord Jesus Christ because of cold weather. Later on, when she regretted her act, she decided to carry a basket full of presents and set on her journey. But she never found Jesus Christ. It is the reason why she leaves gift at the door of every house in Russia on Christmas.
Christmas in Russia is celebrated in a unique way, with great devotion and gusto.