The Holidays You Don't Know About in January
Do you have a case of the Holiday Blues? Are you sad that the season of celebrations and excitement is over? While it’s true that many holidays fall in December, there are 2 Christmas celebrations that happen in January!
The Day of the Three Kings happens on January 6th, and is also known as The Epiphany. And on January 7th, Russians celebrate Christmas! Yes, you read that right!
I have a bit of a history with Russia, though I came to find out more about the fascinating Russian culture about 12 years ago when I traveled there myself. I had the good fortune to visit several cities in 2006 when I was working for an international non-profit organization whose mission was to foster cross-cultural understanding through service work and cultural immersion. (Read: my ideal job)
My role was to brief the volunteers who were going to Russia on cultural norms, logistics and administrative requirements (there were a ton for traveling to Russia) and also to answer their questions about the overseas experience.
We operated our cultural immersion program year-round, with the exception of a few weeks off in January. The official holiday time in Russia is from December 31st to January 10th so everything was closed. This is when I learned of the Russian Christmas celebration that happens in the first week of January rather than December 25th as in most other parts of the world.
A bit of history
During the Soviet era, the celebration of Christmas in Russia was banned (along with the celebration of other religious holidays). When I was in Russia, we visited incredibly beautiful churches with paintings on every inch of the wall and ceiling. I was heartbroken when we were told that these same churches were used for potato storage and other mundane activities. Russian Orthodox Christmas has been a public holiday in Russia since 1991, and the churches again were able to serve their spiritual purpose for the people.
Why the different date?
Most people who celebrate Christmas in Russia follow the Eastern Orthodox Church and the “Julian” calendar is used for religious holidays rather than the “Gregorian” calendar that is the more widely used civil calendar. The Gregorian calendar was named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582, and the Julian calendar was proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
If you’d like to know more about the differences between the two calendars, Wikipedia and google will be happy to oblige. There are lots of scientific explanations, but for our purposes here, let’s just say that there’s a difference in the average length of the year (Julian 365.25 days and Gregorian 365.2425 days) and leave it there! I found this article to be helpful if you’re interested.
photo credit: www.Russianfoods.com
What’s for dinner?
This is of course, the part I’m most interested in! (And maybe you, too!) Traditionally, on Christmas Eve (January 6th), after going to church, one would return home for the “Holy Supper” which consists of 12 dishes (to account for each of the apostles). The dishes include a sweet rice (or other grain) pudding called kutya which is said to be tossed onto the ceiling, and if it sticks to the ceiling, it’s said to be good luck! (Unless you are the one to clean that ceiling, I think!)
The 12 dishes aren’t made now as they were before the Revolution in 1917. My guess is that no one has the time to prepare this amazing spread! If you’d like to read more about the 12 dishes, I enjoyed this article.
Pickled foods like cabbage, beets and cucumbers are a staple, as are non-meat filled dumplings like piroshki or pirogi, mushroom soup, fish (if the family eats fish on Christmas Eve), beans, other vegetables and lots of sweet pies and cakes.
When I traveled to Russia I was surprised by the abundance of salads in the cuisine. When we think of salads as a North American, we typically think of lettuce and tomatoes. But the salads in Russia are more like a potato salad as many of them are made with mayonnaise.
There are salads with beets, sauerkraut, and there’s a very popular salad referred to as the “Olivie” salad which is the most iconic dish for the New Year in Russia. This salad has potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, pickles, peas and can be made with salmon or even a sandwich meat like bologna.
We made piroshki at home and in my classes this week to get us in the mood. The recipe takes a bit of time, and I had to stage several parts of the recipe to fit in the 45 minutes we had in class! It’s worth it, because: fried dough filled with potatoes and onions. Need I say more?
We really enjoyed them and dipped them in a bit of ketchup, while traditionally a creamy garlic dip would be used. Here’s the recipe.
photo credit: Russia Behind the Headlines
How about on Christmas Day?
As in many cultures, the feast includes lots of meat. Traditionally, there are a lot of pork dishes, and also roast goose with apples, whole fish, venison and lamb. These were accompanied by lots of dumplings like pirogi, piroshki, pelmeni and also by casseroles, blini (gorgeous little pancakes) with lots of different fillings.
There are lots of sweet dishes, too, like cookies, pies, cakes, biscuits with berries and honey and sweet fruity soups to sip on. There was plenty of wine and vodka and tea was served from a samovar, which is a majestic receptacle for hot beverages.
Whew! I’m full just thinking about this menu! I’m wishing you all a Schastlivogo Rozhdestva! /shast-liv-ogo roj-dest-va/.