You probably wonder why do Russians Orthodox people celebrate Christmas on January 7th? Why not on December 25th?
Well, the reason is that the Russian Orthodox Church still lives according to the old Julian Calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar, which is adopted by most countries in the world (and by the Russian government). When in the end of 1917 the Bolshevik government decided to adopt Gregorian calendar, the Russian Orthodox church decided not to follow the rules set by the incresingly oppresive civil authorities. Part of the reason was to protest against the Bolsheviks and their interference in church affairs. Another reason, perhaps, was to stick to the older rules, the ways in which generations of Russian Christians were praising the Lord, observing holidays, etc.
It has to be said that Russia has been Christian since the year 980 A.D. (for over 1000 years) and traditions mean very much for every Russian Orthodox Christian. Nowadays, the Russian Orthodox still follows the old calendar and all Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
For the not-so-religious part of the society Christmas time is just a long holiday season. Many people start celebrating Christmas on December 25 (together with the Western World), then continue to observe New Year Eve with festive parties, enjoy New Year Day with their families and, finally, celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7.
How are Christmas/New Year holidays celebrated in Russia?
Most Russian families cannot imagine Christmas/New Year season without a Christmas tree in the house. If a family can afford a tree it will most likely buy it. Decorating such tree will the good fun for children and, perhaps, some adults. Gift giving is also very popular, although many people have become too poor to afford expensive gifts.
Both New Year night and Christmas usually are marked by festive dinners. If you were to visit a family for New Year dinner, you would be surprised to see that even the poorest of families would have a beautifully set table with a lot of good food. Most Russians believe that the way you meet the New Year sets the tote for the whole of the year lying ahead. The menu of New Year dinner varies from family to family, depending on income, size of family, etc. New Year is commonly perceived as family holiday. It is mostly the young people who are likely to be at a party (rather than at home) on New Year night. Everybody else will be sitting at a nicely set table watching TV. While sitting at the New Year table it is customary to "bid farewell" to the previous year. People discuss how successful was the past year for them and expressly wish that the coming year treats them kindly. A toast is usually announced to such wish for the upcoming year. As the clock at the Spasskaya Tower of Moscow Kremlin strikes midnight people will raise their glasses and announce a toast to the New Year, after which the festive dinner continues...
Nowadays, Christmas is still only taking root as a major nationwide holiday. Until very recently most Russians were atheists, and those who were religious were not allowed to celebrate their holidays openly. Now, when all such bans are long lifted many people are in search for their spiritual identity. Although Christmas is widely celebrated in Russia and leaders of the nation attend televised church services, a substantial part of the nation still treats Christmas as just another holiday, somewhat inferior to the New Year Eve/Day.
For the religious Russians Christmas is full of spiritual meaning and is celebrated both at home and at church. Christmas service is one of the most beautiful and important services in the year. Nowadays, Christmas church services are shown on TV, so that you can be part of the big holiday even if you are far away from a nearest church. Christmas services are held on the night of January 6 and are among the most beautiful services of the year.
New Year and Christmas season is a particularly enjoyable time for children. They enjoy decoration Christmas trees, enjoy somewhat hectic New Year preparations and receive the richest gifts of all members of the family. In big cities special New Year shows are organized for children every year and children receive tickets to such shows at school.