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Unique Christmas Traditions in Russia

Saint Basil’s Cathedral with Christmas tree
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 instead of December 25.

If you have some Russian heritage or know someone of Russian descent, you might be curious about how Russians celebrate their Christmas traditions.

Are there fireworks on Christmas Eve? What kind of Christmas food is served during the festive season? Do they practice the same western Christmas traditions?

As a land of ice and snow during winter, Russia can sometimes feel mysterious. With a rich history of ancient pagan culture and deep political roots, celebrating a Russian Christmas can feel different compared to other countries.

Their Russian Santa Claus is known as Ded Moroz or Father Frost. Instead of a large and cheerful man in a red suit, Ded Moroz is a tall and thin man who wears a red, blue, silver, or gold coat lined with white fur and carries a staff. He is always accompanied by Snegurochka, who is a snow maiden as well as his granddaughter.

As such, here are some unique Russian traditions practiced during Christmas:

Russian Orthodox Christmas

Because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on January 7.

Celebrating New Year was considered more important at that time when the Soviet Union was in power. In 1929, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday, and Christmas trees were banned as well.

If people wanted to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it in secret for fear of being found out by the Soviet government.

It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that people were able to celebrate Christmas freely.

But after 6 decades of enforced rules against Christmas celebrations, it’s not surprising to observe that Christmas in Russia is smaller and quieter compared to the New Year celebrations.

Fasting on Christmas Day

Traditionally, Russians practice the Nativity fast, which is a forty-day period of not consuming a meal until evening. The fast starts from November 28 to January 6.

Some restaurants may offer special menus for those who practice the fasting tradition.

And on the evening of December 24, there is strictly no eating of food until the first star in the evening sky can be seen.

The only people exempted by the rules are the young, the ill, the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. But more importantly, the fast should never place anyone in serious physical danger.

Christmas Eve Feast

On the day before Christmas Eve, the appearance of the first star signifies the end of the fast. People eat sochivo or kutia. It’s a special porridge made out of various grains, seeds, nuts, honey, and dried fruit.

Afterwards, dinner is served with 12 dishes that represent the 12 apostles. However, they are Lenten dishes - which means no meat.

Popular Lenten dishes served during Christmas Eve include borsch (beetroot soup), solyanka (vegan potluck), vegetable pies, sauerkraut, vegetable porridge dishes, and vegetable salads consisting of gherkins, mushroom, tomatoes, potatoes, and other root vegetables.

The main Christmas meal is a heavy feast full of meat dishes, such as roast pork, goose, priog, and pelmeni (meat dumplings). Desserts such as fruit pies, gingerbread, and honey bread cookies are eaten at the end of the meal.

When the meal is over, it’s tradition to attend the midnight church services.

Christmas Fortune-Telling

In Russia, fortune-telling is an old tradition that has been practiced since pre-Christian times. The Russian Orthodox Church does not condone these pagan acts, so it’s still practiced today.

It used to be that only young, unmarried women could take part in the fortune-telling rituals. However, most of the rituals performed today involve the family.

From tarot reading, tea leaf reading, and coffee grounds divination, these fortune-telling rituals are commonly practiced among Russian families.

One popular fortune-telling ritual is preparing a bowl of uncooked rice. A question is asked or a wish is made as the person places their hand on top of the rice inside the bowl.

After a few seconds, they take their hand back and they must count the number of grains that got stuck on their hand. An even number means yes, or that their wish will come true, while an odd number means no, and that their wish may come true after some time passes.


Kolyadki is a popular Christmas tradition in Russia. It’s similar to Christmas caroling where groups of young participants (Kolya Dary) would walk around the neighborhood, singing Christmas songs from house to house and spreading good holiday cheer.

The leader of the group would approach the house and ask the homeowner’s permission if they could perform the Koliada ritual in front of the house. If the homeowner agrees, they would begin the ritual, singing songs and wishing the homeowner well.

After the act is done, the homeowners will then give the Kolya Dary gifts - like candies, cookies, or money - as thanks for the well-wishes. The Kolya Dary would then move on to the next house.

Some Russians who practice Kolyadki believe the well-being of their family for the coming year will depend on how generous they are with the Kolya Dary.

How Russians Celebrate Christmas Today

Although these traditions have been practiced in Russia for a long time, sadly, some traditions are slowly dying out, such as the Nativity fast and going to church.

According to an opinion poll by the All-Russia Center, the number of atheists has grown from 7 percent to 14 percent during the course of 4 years, from 2017 to 2021.

Many Russian youths have stopped believing in God and refused to practice religious traditions. They claim themselves to be atheists. Some factors such as the development of modern science and technology could be the reason why they have moved away from their belief in God.

According to another recent survey, only ⅔ of the entire Russian population celebrate Christmas, while the rest are practicing atheists. And only 19% of the population upholds the tradition of visiting the church on Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, Christmas in Russia is still an important holiday that is celebrated all over the country.

If you love to travel and visit distant countries, or if you simply want to witness and experience the different Christmas traditions around the world, why not consider going on a trip to Russia? With its deep history of ancient pagan traditions and culture, you might find yourself entranced with tracing its ancient roots and mysteries.

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