January holidays and traditions in Russia are diverse and fun. We all love January because for Russians it’s a month of long holidays, winter amusements and favourite traditions. Besides usual tourist attractions as museums, theatres and must-see places, Russia has to offer her visitors really unique cultural events. The first month of the year is always entertaining and fascinating. Let’s go!
1 January — New Years
New Years is the most loved and loud holiday in Russia, celebrated all night long in the most joyful manner.
Usually, Russians are afforded a long festive vacation which lasts from 31st of December till 8th of January. This allows many people to spend holidays with their families (especially for those who live far from each other), to visit friends or to make a trip. Thus I can say that New Years is the longest holiday as well.
Fortunately, shops, museums, theatres, exhibitions are open so there’s no difficulty to enjoy these winter days off. Despite cold weather, winter sports lovers go skiing, snowboarding, sledging or just building snow castles with kids. Festive markets are still open so even if there is no need to buy gifts, they are an amazing place to hang out and to eat out! For example, the famous Christmas market on the Pionerskaya Square in Saint Petersburg invites us to taste traditional food from different countries: mulled wine, caramelized almonds, grilled sausages,
If you want to know more of what Russians or guests can do on New Years, check the post
Guide To New Years In Saint Petersburg
7 January — Christmas
Yes, Orthodox Christmas is on 7th January. Why so late? Eastern Orthodox Church uses Julian calendar, so the same Orthodox holidays are celebrated 13 days later than Catholic.
Nowadays Christmas is not so important as New Years. After the Revolution of 1917, Bolsheviks banned all religious feasts. And many Christmas traditions — like decorating trees and making gifts — turned into New Year’s traditions.
Christmas is a quiet family day when we cook a nice dinner, send wishes to friends and colleagues, light candles. The other tradition is to make ring small angel-shaped bells — because it brings luck to hear an angel 🙂 Many people attend Christmas liturgy in cathedrals and churches.
Christmas Eve is called in Russian “sochelnik”. The word “sochelnik” derives from “sochivo” — the name of a traditional Russian Christmas meal. Sochivo is a sweet porridge made of rice or wheat with a lot of honey, raisins, dried apricots, nuts and poppy seeds. Sochivo is served in a common bowl from which everyone eats with his own spoon. This common bowl symbolizes unity.
Unlike other religious holidays, Christmas in Russia is always an official day off.
14 January — Old New Year
A little bit weird name, I admit 🙂 The existence of this holiday is due to the 13 days gap between Julian and Gregorian calendars — the same case as with Catholic and Orthodox Xmas. Properly speaking, it’s not a big date and not a holiday at all. But people love the “old new” oxymoron, so Old New Years is just one more reason to smile and to make jokes.
19 January – Epiphany
On Epiphany day Orthodox Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. That is why Epiphany traditions are related to water.
First, we believe that the water on this day is blessed. People go to churches to take on bottles of this holy water which is deemed to possess protective and healing properties. First of all, it’s necessary to wash the face, drip a bit of holy water in the house and take one sip of it every day. These activities make the believers feel protected from evil, illnesses and other troubles.
Another tradition is winter swimming on the Epiphany Eve. As water is considered to be blessed, people go to springs or cut holes in the ice on rivers or lakes. Believers immerse themselves 3 times in cold water to honour the Holy Trinity. There is a belief that such icy plunge erases person’s sins. In spite of the fact that the water is really freezing, nobody gets sick (this is true!)
Fortune telling is also among the most popular traditions in Russia. The Epiphany Eve is considered to be the most dangerous time when unholy mysterious forces are especially powerful. Fortune telling was (and still is) the main maiden amusement because many maidens desired to see the future and, even with help of the evil spirits, to know who their husbands would be and how their lives would look like.
Fortune telling rituals are multiple and diverse. For example, if a maiden is willing to know the name of her future fiancé, before going to sleep, she has to brush her hair, to put the brush under her pillow and to ask: “My fiancé, come to me and brush my hair!” At night she is supposed to see her fiancé in her dream.
The most reliable and the most dangerous fortune telling rituals are rituals with mirrors. Mirrors are seen as a borderline between 2 worlds: real and the world of spirits. The best place for this ritual is bania (Russian sauna), an unholy place. The best time is midnight when the border between two worlds is the most porous. The maiden should be alone, she should release her hair, put in front of her a mirror, a candle and cutlery for two persons. Looking in the mirror, the maiden asks: “My fiancé, come to have dinner with me!”
At midnight she will see a man behind her shoulder — he will be her fiancé. After seeing his face, the maiden should say: “Keep away from me!” This spell would protect her from evil spirits. If she doesn’t pronounce the spell in time, unholy spirits will steal her soul.
Though we can hardly believe we can see any men reflection in a mirror, the ritual remains scary. I would never do this, because what if I see someone?!
Here are the main holidays and traditions in Russia in January. In general, I can say that January is an interesting month full of various activities: family holidays, meetings with friends, mysterious rituals and religious traditions. Snow and cold can’t stop exiting living, so if you visit Russia in winter, be assured you’ll find plenty of truly Russian events to see and to participate in.