07 January 2011

Merry (Russian Orthodox) Christmas!

Today is Russian Orthodox Christmas (they go by the Julian calendar which is 13 days behind the internationally used calendar. So, technically it's December 25th today). It seems like any other day here, really. Our teacher, Irena, laughed a bit when we wished her a Merry Christmas this morning and said that "only really religious people do special things" when I asked if she was having a special dinner tonight. Well, I thought, there must be a lot of really religious people then, because we've been seeing signs of Christmas festivity everywhere!
This little Christmas tree is in our hostel room (the Estonian finger puppet on top is mine). Lights and trees are all over the city and Christmas carols have been playing in loop at the local cafe. So, it's been a little hard to believe how small of a deal the holiday is today.
I mean, check out this Christmas market! Doesn't seem too religiously observant to me. The performer's voice boomed so loudly that we didn't linger too long, just long enough to grab two cups of hot wine. Hot beer was also available, but we didn't try it.
When buildings that look like this are your backdrop, you really have to take the whimsy up a notch at your festivals.
Now imagine being surrounded by all this eye candy, hearing a man's voice singing children's songs booming in the distance and then running into these photo op actors. I felt like I was the only human in a cartoon and was half expecting Roger Rabbit to pop out from behind a tree or Paula Abdul to start dancing with a cat.
I mistook this man handing out flyers for Santa Claus (so did this kid), when he was really just Grandfather Frost. You see, all of this Yuletide-type festivity is actually attached to New Year's Day - which is why today, Christmas Day, just isn't a big deal. Russians weren't allowed to be religious during the Soviet era, so they kept Christmas traditions alive by shifting them to New Year's. Since 1992, Christmas has been reinstated, but New Year's Day still remains the bigger deal holiday.

New Year's, Christmas, whatever gives me the chance to enjoy a few more glasses of hot wine in a plastic cup is holiday enough for me.

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