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XP: Can I ask a question about Russian Orthodox Traditions?

 Hi girls! Can I invade your board with a question please. I posted this over on D*R originally and they had the idea to come here and ask.

Backstory: We have an exchange that lives with us from the Ukraine. He is Russian Orthodox.

 I'm looking to incorporate some Christmas traditions into our celebration for him. He hasn't told me much just that he can celebrate however we do and he's fine with it. However, I know he'd be thrilled to be able to have some of his traditions around. I do know they don't celebrate really until January 7th, so I was hoping to find some fun things to do that day with him.

We are Catholic and he's been to church with us and says a lot of it is the same.

I've googled this sort of thing in the past with other exchange students and it bites me everytime. Usually I get a "You googled that didn't you? We don't really do that." Stick out tongue

Re: XP: Can I ask a question about Russian Orthodox Traditions?

  • My husband is Ethiopian Orthodox and a lot of the traditions are similar. Unfortunately there is not a lot that they do for Christmas that is easily done at an American home. They fast the night before and go to church all night long. They stay at church til 9am because that is supposedly the time Jesus was born. (H says they sing Happy Birthday "in the Bible way." I don't know what this means.) When they go home they slaughter goats and chickens and have a big feast, light candles and listen to Christmas music and decorate a tree. The tree stays up for a week until Epiphany. You could obviously have a big feast, light candles and decorate a tree on the 7th I suppose....

    So that probably doesn't help too much but that is what my H had to say about Orthodox Christmas traditions :) 

  • I don't have any answers for you. Hopefully some of the others will. But I just wanted to say I think wanting to do this for him is really sweet of you.
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  • image bluegirl2006:
    I don't have any answers for you. Hopefully some of the others will. But I just wanted to say I think wanting to do this for him is really sweet of you.

    Thanks. He's our third exchange student and we always try to incorporate some fun things for all of them. This one especially. He's a little more homesick/needs a bit more "motherly love" than our previous ones. It's also part of the learning experience for everyone.

    He's a happy kid but a bit getting out of him what he really wants is difficult sometimes. And in this case with a "lesser" known religion it's not easy.

  • Here's what I know based on my 4 years living in Russia and what I learned in my cultural understanding class. First, they "don't really celebrate" until January 7 because the Russian Orthodox Church refused to change to the Georgian calendar and the Julian calendar is 13 days behind. December 25th means nothing in Russia. It's a regular work day, in the middle of a regular week. 

    He probably hasn't mentioned Christmas because it's a largely ignored holiday. It is strictly a religious holiday for the devout. Services start around 11pm and will run until the Old New Year (January 14). The devout will fast that week, before celebrating. For everyone else it's just another day off. You have to remember this was a holiday that was illegal for 60 years. 

    In order to fill the void let by banning Christmas the government made New Year's a big deal and it is still the most important holiday. People put up New Year's trees, not Christmas trees. Ded Moroz (father frost) leaves gifts under the tree for the kids on New Year's eve. Fireworks, champagne, and great food are all a must on New Year's eve. New Year's day is mostly spent with family and some people go to the banya. 

    I'd make a big deal out of New Year's for him and maybe something small for the 7th.

    I'm bi-coastal. I live on both sides of the Atlantic.</br>
  • BTW, exchanging gifts is NOT part of (Ethiopian) Orthodox Christmas tradition. My H was really surprised that we were supposed to get gifts for family members and that they were going to give him things. He liked getting the presents though :) 
  • Oh and I think the differences between a catholic service and an orthodox service are pretty big. First there are no pews. You stand. sometimes for hours. Women cover their hair. The sign of the cross is made forehead, chest, right shoulder then left.

    In the catholic church You go to church at a specific time for a specific amount of time. Not so in Russian Othodox. The church is open all the time. You drop in, light some incense, stay as long or as little as you like. Listen to the priests or don't - up to you. There is set speaking time, but that's a small reason of why most people go. They go to pray in front of icons and since the church houses the icons well they go there.

    Russian orthodox pray in front of icons because they believe icons relay their prayers to God. So depending on what you're asking for, or who you're praying for depends on which icon you pray before. People used to keep an icon in their home to pray before also - not sure how common that is anymore.

    The alter is separated from the members by an iconostasis. You can only see the alter once a year (before Easter I think). 

    Religion is also sort of considered the domain of the woman. I wouldn't be surprised if your exchange student's mother goes to church, but his dad doesn't. Or maybe just on big holidays (a lot like my mom and dad actually). By extension I'd guess he didn't spend much time in church either - you know being a boy and all. 


    I'm bi-coastal. I live on both sides of the Atlantic.</br>
  • Like pp have said, they celebrate on 7 Jan, not 25 December.  One thing I do remember from my exposure to it all was that the actual celebration was more about being with your family and friends and eating (and drinking) a ton.  Presents were exchanged but they were more trinkets than anything big.  The meal on the other hand was ridiculous.  Several courses, several cases of wine and vodka, and it went on well into the evening, lots of happy toasting, etc. 

    It would probably be hard to recreate the kind of environment he might have at home at your house, but you could try.  Maybe just fixing him a special meal on the 7th? Also, maybe keep some of the decorations around... 


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