We take a look at the origin of certain Christmas symbols and explain how this season is celebrated in Russia, wishing all our readers the happiest of Christmases.
Saint Nicholas (who gave his name to Santa Claus) is the Patron of Russia, seamen and children, the benevolent figure who brings presents on December 6th, 25th or January 6th, depending on the culture. But he existed in the flesh. Born in Asia Minor near Mira, of which he later became bishop, Nicholas was dedicated to giving presents and gave rise to two legends: he saved three daughters of a poor man from prostitution by giving each one a bag of gold and he also saved three sailors from death by appearing in their dreams (in some countries, such as Portugal, there is a Christmas sweet with this name).
Originally, presents were given in a cerimony on 6th December (Saint Nicholas died on 6th December 342) but this was altered when Pope Julius I changed the celebration to 25th December, which coincided with the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the pagan festivities of the Winter solstice on 21st December. It was in the 13th Century that people started creating nativity scenes to celebrate the Mass of Christ.
The Orthodox Church later moved this date to Epiphany (Day of Adoration, January 6th) when the Three Wise Kings brought presents to the baby Jesus in the stable. This is the day that Christmas is celebrated in Russia but the ones who bring the presents are Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his grand-daughter Snegurochka, the Snow Girl. Ded Moroz is perhaps the original Father Christmas, with his long white beard and long tunic but until the 1920s, this figure was depicted in several colours. It was only when Coca Cola decided to use him for their advertising campaign around this time, dressing him in red and white, the company colours, that he because the universal Father Christmas we all recognise. In Lappland, people used to build their homes underground and enter and leave by an opening which served as a door and a chimney – this is why Father Christmas chooses this unlikely and strange way to enter your home.
The Christmas Tree’s triangular shape aided early Christian missionaries to teach the Pagans that they were not worshipping the tree as a God, but rather the symbolism of the Holy Trinity represented by its three points. The first trees were decorated in the Baltic states.
Christmas lights represent the Light of Christ, light of the world and providing the hope of good over darkness.
In Russia, the New Year is much more celebrated than December 25th and the Orthodox Christmas takes place from January 6th to 7th.
As we enjoy Christmas this year, let us spare a thought for the marginalised, excluded, oppressed, unemployed, destitute and unforunate people who have nothing to celebrate and let us use this period to reflect on how we can improve their plight by this time next year.