Russian Christmas traditions: Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is called “sochelnik” after “sochivo”, the name of the ritual meal to be eaten on that day. Sochivo or kutya is a kind of kasha of wheat or barley, rye, buckwheat, peas, lentils, mixed with honey.
The number of meals was ritual too, 12 (the number of apostles). The feast was rich and hearty: pancakes, fish dishes, aspic, jelly from pork and beef legs, a sucking pig stuffed with kasha, a pig’s head with horseradish, home-made pork sausage, honey gingerbreads, roasted goose. According to ancient tradition, a table was covered with hay - in memory of the cave and the crib.
The food on Christmas Eve was not supposed to be eaten until the first star appeared in memory of the Bethlehem Star. After the onset of dusk, with the first star lit in the sky, people sat around the table and exchanged wafers, wishing each other well. Christmas is a holiday, when the whole family meet around the table. Christmas Eve ended the lent and started the celebration of Christmas when believers treat themselves with tasty dishes.
On the night of January 6, before Orthodox Christmas, people did not sleep: they went from home to home for treats. “Kolyada” was the name of ancient Christmas ritual glorifying the birth of Christ with singing and the song itself. The rich people taking part in Kolyada dressed up in carnival costumes; poor ones wore their clothes inside out and animal masks.
Nowadays the ritual is being reborn: people learn songs, wear disguises and masks and go to their neighbors, relatives, and colleagues.
Christmas lasts for three days. Devout believers try to spend hold in church. The second day after Christmas is called the Synaxis of the Blessed Virgin Mary when Christians in churches glorify the Mother of God.