Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Russian Christmas Traditions

This is the Kizhi Pogost, or Kizhi Enclosure. Click on the picture to enlarge. The church was built without nails by fitting the wood together. Legend attributes the building of the church to the monk Nestor the Chronicler.

The Transfiguration Church (left) stands on an island in Lake Onega called Kizhi in the Russian republic of Karelia. In the Karelian language Kizhi means playground. The picture also shows a bell tower (center), and another church. These churches are maintained as historical monuments, and similar buildings have been brought from other towns and reassembled at the Kizhi State Open-Air Museum of History, architecture, and Ethnography. The historical complex is one of the most famous tourist sites in Russia and not too far from St. Petersburg.

This is a close up of the Transfiguation Church. Listen to the bells on Kizhi. You can listen to and watch how the bells work in Suzdal and at Kazan Cathedral.
On Christmas Eve, I like to watch the Nutcracker. Here is Larissa Lezhnina of the Kirov Ballet dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Here Prince Koklyush dances with the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Check out Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Nutcracker/Prince. [Wikipedia explains that Baryshnikov's version "omits the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Koklyush, and gives their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker/Prince; so that in his version, the two do not merely sit out most of the entire second act as they do in other productions."]

Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov skated this number in 1992 for Disney Christmas on Ice. Tragically, in 1995 the 28-year old Sergei died of a massive heart attack.

Here is the Trepak (Russian Dance) from the Nutcracker. Here is the March and Children's Galop.
Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, but Russian Catholics and Protestants celebrate on December 25th. There is also the secular New Year's Celebration that features Father Frost and Snow Maiden bringing presents. The Russians used to have the Kremlin clock tower on T.V. like we watch for the ball to fall in Times Square.
Under the communists, Christmas was not an official holiday, but now Christmas is officially recognised. This site describes some Russian Christmas customs and explains that their Christmas carols are called kolyadki:
Christmas in Russia is associated with a number of other practices, which represent a blend of tradition from Russia's Christian and pre-Christian past. It was once common practice, on Christmas Eve, for groups of people masquerading as manger animals to travel from house to house singing songs known as kolyadki. Some kolyadki were pastoral carols to the baby Jesus, while others were homages to the ancient solar goddess Kolyada, who brings the lengthening days of sunlight through the winter. In return for their songs, the singers were offered food and coins, which they gladly accepted before moving on to the next home.
Here is a slideshow about Russian churches made on the Orthodox Christmas. You will enjoy the bells. He's another slideshow called "Beautiful Churches" set to Beethovans' "Moonlight Sonata."
This slideshow of ancient Russian churches is accompanied by Russian heavy metal band called Black Coffee (Черный Кофе). Many of Russia's churches are basically ruins because the communist government closed the majority of churches. Some churches were maintained as museums, but most churches were locked, demolished, or taken over for clubs or other uses.
Religious art was vandalized or confiscated by government-sponsored gangs of militant atheists who pillaged and demolished many churches. The stolen art was often carelessly stored in damp basements and ruined. After 1917, it was a rare thing for a new congregation to be registered or a new church to be built. A large percentage of the legally-registered "Russian Orthodox" churches were actually Ukrainian Catholic parishes absorbed into the Russian Orthodox Church after their denomination was banned. There were probably about 6000 Orthodox congregations in Russia in the last years of communism.
Today, the post-Soviet government and Russian Orthodox Church give each other support; but Protestant and other Churches still encounter persecution, and unfortunately the Russian Orthodox Church does not defend freedom of religion. Protestantism came to Russia from German settlers who were invited to Russia during the times of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Lutheran congregations are active in lands that used to be part of Finland and in Siberia where many were sent during the Stalin years. These days, Russian Protestant churches often seek ties with Western Protestant denominations, and the the Russian Orthodox church and government sometimes try to stir up mistrust about these relationships.
Here's another slideshow by the heavy metal Russian band "Black Coffee" about Russia's churches. The film is showing old footage of the destruction of Russian churches as the band sings about the destruction of the churches, cupolas and crosses. Then they run the video backwards to "rebuild" the churches. It's too bad that the Russian Orthodox Church, which has suffered so much persecution, is not always tolerant of other Christian denominations. Historically, Russians believe that being Russian means being Orthodox. They need to work on that.
Russia Today explains some Orthodox and secular Christmas customs and shows a service in Moscow led by the Patriarch. Here is a slideshow of old Christmas cards accompanied by a Christmas carol called "Angels in Heaven."

Here is a Russian Orthodox church choir singing Silent Night. Orthodox church choirs often attract professional singers who perform difficult musical pieces. Here is a Russian children's choir singing a contemporary Christmas song called "Christmas." This is more the style of a Protestant church.
Russian Orthodox Churches exist in diaspora, too. There are Russian Orthodox Churches in formerly-Russian Alaska whose membership includes Alaskan natives. Here are three videos about Saint Herman of Alaska. [Part 1, part 2, part 3.] This video juxtaposes pictures of both Russian and Alaskan Orthodox Christians. The commentary by the poster notes:
A contemporary setting of this vigil hymn by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev is matched with photos of ordinary Orthodox Christians in Russia and Alaska.
Here is a Russian cartoon based on Hans Christian Anderson's short story "The Fir Tree."

Here is a slideshow of Russian churches set to a famous children's song called "A Fir Tree Grows in the Forest." This song is a popular secular Christmas song like Jingle Bells that all children learn to sing.

Here is a slideshow set to the popular New Year's song "A Fir Tree Grows in the Forest," a cartoon of "A Fir Tree Grows in the Forest," and a little Russian preschooler named Sonia singing the song. Sonya's still working on her delivery, but she can trill her Russian letter "R" perfectly! That's a milestone for Russian toddlers. "Blondinka the poet's" rendition isn't bad, either.
This Karaoke version of "В лесу родилась елочка" includes the text, but there are endless variations of this popular Russian children's song. Here is a choral rendition with pictures of a Russian winter. В лесу родилась ёлочка has its own Wikipedia entry (Russian) and the text of the song.
Here is a Russian New Year's party for children. Children are visited by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden.
The Snow Maiden, Snegorochka, is a bit like Frosty the Snowman because she melts in the story. In Moscow, Grandfather Frost and Snow Maiden have their own winter playground where young Muscovites can enjoy sledding among ice sculptures carved by artists.
Here is a Russian cartoon called "Grandfather Frost and the Grey Wolf."

Here is a Russian cartoon called "New Year's Night."

Here is a longer cartoon called "Twelve Months."
Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. The animals will remind you of Disney characters in Bambi such as Thumper and Chip and Dale.

Here is a longer cartoon call "Snegorochka" (Snow Maiden).
Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

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