Privet! Hello from Russia!
We are really getting the hang of this Around the world in 80 (well, 129) days business. We have just landed in Russia, the largest country in the world by landmass. In fact, Russia occupies one-tenth of the worlds entire landmass, has 11 time zones and spans across two continents - we may be here a while, folks!
Russia can be found in the northern hemisphere with borders on the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Depending on where in Russia you are, you may find yourself in either Europe or Asia, and its landscape varies from frozen coastlines to deserts.
We've already covered just how large Russia is, so it probably won't come as a surprise when we say that the weather really does depend on where in Russia you're actually visiting. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on central and European Russia and will simply say this: pack your woollies - it's going to be cold. At the end of December, the majority of Russia is covered in a thick blanket of snow, sometimes several feet deep. If you're visiting Moscow or St. Petersburg, which are the most popular destinations with British tourists, the temperature can drop to -20 degrees celsius. In Siberia, expect -50 degrees celsius. Suddenly, -20 doesn't sound too bad, right? Wrong. Moscow and St. Petersburg are extremely humid cities, so -20 degrees celsius can often feel much colder than it actually is.
The coldest populated area in the world is located in Russia. In Oymyakon, the temperatures can drop to -70 degrees celsius, and, we're starting to feel cold just writing this post.
Fun fact: the majority of Russians don't celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. In fact, they celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.
OK, we know, we've lost you. We're going to pull this back in. The reason for this is the calendar which most Russian's follow. The Russian Orthodox Church follows the old 'Julian' calendar for Christmas, Easter and all other religious celebrations. This calendar allows for a 40 day advent period which begins on the 28th of November and ends on the 6th of January, thus meaning the 7th of January is celebrated as Christmas day. Official Christmas holidays, including New Year, in Russia begin on the 31st of December and end on the 10th January.
With this in mind, for the remainder of this post, Christmas Day will refer to the 7th January with Christmas eve being the 6th.
Russia is known for having a very tumultuous modern history and Christmas was banned in 1929, with Christmas trees banned until 1935 at which point they began being known as 'New Year trees'. People weren't free to celebrate Christmas until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, so if families wanted to celebrate Christmas between 1929 and 1991, they had to do it in secret without the authorities finding out. Even today, Christmas is still a quieter celebration in Russia with New Year being the time for parties, gifts and celebrating. It is also at New Year when Grandfather Frost brings presents to children, with his granddaughter, Snegurochka, in tow. There really isn't a reindeer in sight. On New Year's Eve, children will hold hands and sing songs around the New Year tree, calling for Grandfather Frost to bring them presents.
Possibly the most famous thing about Russia and Christmas is the story of the Babushka, the grandmother who met the three wise men when they were on their way to see the newborn king. The Babushka story is very common in Europe, however, most Russians have never heard the story. In fact, it is said that it was created by an American poet named Edith Thomas in 1907.
Food is a big part of Russian culture and it does not disappoint at Christmas. On Christmas day, families will often feast on roasted meat, particularly pork and goose which are accompanied with meat dumplings known as Pelmeni and Pirog. Dessert is often gingerbread and fruit pies, however, you can expect to see a fresh plate of Kozulya on every table. Kozulya is traditional Russian cookies made in the shape of sheep, goat or deer and is traditionally eaten at the start of the Christmas period. A symbol of prosperity in the house, Kozulya derives from the Russian word meaning 'she-goat' and are a delicacy of the Pomory - 'Coast- dwellers'.
And with that, we are concluding our visit to Russia - trust us, we could be here until next Christmas, however, we are boarding our flight to Japan!
C рождеством! (s rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM or Merry Christmas)
The Crackers Team