CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
By ANDREA FURLONG
While American children are told Santa travels the world, bringing gifts to boys and girls the night of Dec. 24, the story of Santa is actually limited to mostly English-speaking countries. In other parts of the world, a Santa-like figure often brings gifts to children but on a day not associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. The Santa character, the legend, the elf-alternatives and even the date of the holiday vary from country to country. Following, Williamsburg High School’s foreign exchange students recall their version of Santa and the holidays associated with him.
In Russia, Christmas is recognized as a Christian holiday and is generally observed Jan.7 by religious people or those who value tradition. New Year’s Day is actually more comparable to the American Christmas in terms of celebrating.
Like American families gather to eat for the holidays, Russians eat dinner together with their families the night of Dec. 31. A traditional Russian New Year’s Eve meal usually served a few hours before midnight and includes marinated fish; chicken; a dish of onions, boiled potatoes, carrots, pickles, smoked meat and peas; and mandarin oranges, according to Russian foreign exchange student Valentina Moleva. The mandarin oranges are especially important because they remind the Russians of the days when the fruit was scarce under the rule of the Soviet Union.
“My mother said when she was young, mandarin oranges were hard to get and came only for New Year’s. She usually says, ‘When I smell mandarin oranges, I feel like it’s New Year’s,’” Moleva said.
Once children are asleep, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), the Russian version of Santa, arrives with his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snowmaiden) to put presents under families’ Christmas trees. While Ded Moroz dresses very similarly to Santa Claus, his legend does not include reindeer or elves.
“We don’t have elves. People usually believe that animals in the forest help him,” Moleva said.
Grandfather Frost also refuses to award presents based on children’s behavior.
“We don’t have naughty or nice kids. He just gives presents to everyone,” Moleva said.
Ded Moroz travels on foot to homes to deliver presents through the window, since many Russian houses do not have chimneys, according to Moleva.
“People say if you leave a letter on the window at night, he will take it and read it and he will drop a present through your window,” she said.
Because Russia does not have large shopping malls, Ded Moroz visits children at their schools prior to New Year’s Eve. In larger cities, the town square will feature a miniature city made of ice for children to play on and visit Ded Moroz and Snegurochka the night of New Year’s Eve. Children can also visit the “official” Ded Moroz and his blue-coated granddaughter at their house in northwestern Russia in the city of Monchegorsk.
While little children dream of the arrival of presents under their Christmas tree from Ded Moroz, at midnight on Dec. 31, the older children and adults scramble out to the streets to view a fireworks show put on by their city. Generally, teenagers and young adults leave to celebrate the new year with friends after midnight.
“Last year, after midnight I went to my friend’s and I was there till, like, Jan. 3,” Moleva said.
Since New Year’s Day is such a large holiday in Russia, it is not uncommon to celebrate it for several days. In fact, Russians have a similar holiday that occurs nearly two weeks later, Jan.13-14, called Old New Year’s. It’s celebrated much like the New Year, except without Ded Moroz.
Like Russia, New Year’s Day is a bigger celebration than Christmas in the Ukraine. Ukrainians share their New Year’s characters with Russia, but spell their names slightly differently. Aside from that difference, Grandfather Frost and Snowmaiden serve the same roles in the Ukraine as Russia, arriving on the night of Dec. 31 to deliver presents. Five days after New Year’s Day, many Ukrainians celebrate Christmas with a special meal and their own Christian traditions.
“We must have 12 dishes for the 12 apostles,” Ukrainian foreign exchange student Olga Kurets explained.
The night of Christmas Eve, Jan. 6, Ukrainians watch the sky for the Star of Bethlehem to appear. Once it is spotted, families begin the 12-course meal named the Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper), starting with kutya, a porridge-like dish containing honey, raisins and poppy seeds that is served from a community bowl. Then they move on to the other dishes, which usually consist of borsch (a beet soup); dumplings stuffed with cherries, cabbage, potatoes; and many kinds of fish, since Christian Ukrainians do not eat meat in the days leading up to Christmas. Uzvar, a traditional juice made from dried fruit, is generally served with the meal.
At night, children go caroling door-to-door, an old tradition in the Ukraine.
“You know how you have Halloween? In the evening, children usually go around to people’s houses and sing (Ukrainian) Christmas carols and wish them good health and good harvest and people usually give them candy,” Kurets said.
As in Russia, Ukrainians also celebrate the Old New Year.
UPDATED December 23, 2009 11:12 AM