Christmas in Russia – Customs and Traditions

Christmas in Russia has many Slavic features as well as Orthodox traditions.

Christmas in Russia is one of the most iconic festivals in the country. It first became a holiday in the first century in Russia and therefore it has deep roots in the country. The holiday began when the people in most parts of the country converted to the eastern Orthodox church. During this period the people across Russia began embracing Christmas and its traditions.

Orthodox Christianity was popularly practiced in Russia over the years until 1917 when Christmas was banned by the atheist regime that took power. The Christmas trees in the country were converted to New Year’s trees. Even after the ban, people across the country embraced the tradition and continued celebrating Christmas.

Russia went back to its Christmas traditions after the fall of the Soviet Union. The celebrations were made legal across the country, and you can find various outstanding features that make the country exceptional.  The New Year is still a major day in Russia and people will often spend this day drinking, eating, and having a good time with their family members.

There are no religious connotations on New Year’s Day, and you will find that people across the country value various aspects of it.

Russian Christmas traditions

The Russian people believe in Christmas, and it is common that you will find them celebrating this day by eating and drinking. New Year’s Day is when Ded Moroz will bring gifts to the children. There are other important figures during this period, and they include Snegurochka, the granddaughter of Ded Moroz.

During the New Year period, you will find Russian kids holding hands together before the Christmas tree and calling out Grandfather Frost and his sidekick to give them presents.


This is one of the ancient traditions that has been common in Russia for years now. It is still practiced, especially in the rural areas of the country. The festival began during the pre-Christian times, and it is more of a Christmas caroling activity. The participants in these traditions usually wear costumes, masks, horns, and fur.

They usually arrange something like a carnival, and they move from one house to another. Some of the common traditional animals that you will find the people dressed as in the region are goose, crane, bull, horse, and goats. The local people in Russia usually give the participants all kinds of gifts ranging from money, fruits, candies, and sweets.

In some other places, you will find that they move in large numbers and when they are invited into a house, they will then perform Christmas carols. They will ask permission from the owner of the house, and once permission is granted then they can join in singing and dancing.

You will find that the participants are usually kids and young adults who have high expectations of getting presents and in some cases, the presents they wanted coincide with what they got, as this makes the Christmas experience exceptional. Russia is a land of mysteries and unique customs, and you will find many people participating in these dances.

Grandfather Frost

This is a unique creature that has replaced the visits from St. Nicholas during the festive period in Russia. The grandfather usually comes with a granddaughter who helps him in giving the gifts to the children. 

During this period the children will hold their hands in front of the Christmas tree and recite Christmas poems or sing Christmas carols. All this is to convince Grandfather Frost to give them presents.

It is a highlight for many kids around the country because they get to make their Christmas wishes known to him.

Christmas tree in Russia

It is important to understand that the Christmas tree is often decorated on Christmas Eve. The people in the region are known to decorate their houses and their business premises as well.

Some of the common decorative pieces include stars, fairy lights, and angelic cutouts. It is one tradition very common in Russia. The tree is often decorated by young members of the family.

Christmas eve fasting in Russia

It is a common feature that during Christmas Eve in Russia, many people usually fast. This is an important practice to many because it reunites them with their faith and Christian principles. During this time, they do not eat anything until the first evening star appears in the sky.

However, it is important to understand that during the day on Christmas Eve, people prepare all kinds of meals and this is in wait for the big day and the birth of Jesus in a manger. The sight of the evening star on the 24th is used as a symbol of the star that guided magi to see Jesus on his birth. 

When people break their fasting in the evening during this period, they will usually eat porridge that is made from rice or wheat, poppy seeds, honey, and chopped walnuts. This is an important meal of the day as it gets the people prepared for the big feast that is coming in the evening.

The most common name for the porridge is sochivo and it is popular among the Orthodox Christians in the country.

Christmas decorations in Russia

Here are some lovely Christmas decorations in Moscow, Russia.

It is a common practice across Russia to decorate during the Christmas period. In most cases, you will find that people decorate their tables with white clothes, and this is a symbol of the swaddling cloth that was used to cover baby Jesus. 

They will then place some hay on the table, and this is to indicate the hay in the manger. It is a reminder of how Jesus was born and why people celebrate Christmas during this period. The center of the table is often graced with a white candle and a piece of bread is served during this period.


This is another important tradition in Russia. It is a type of bread baked during the Christmas season. Once people break their fast, the elder of the family will break the bread and share it among the people on the table. This is a very important practice because it symbolizes their unity in Christ.

In addition to this, a spoonful of the bread is often thrown to the ceiling and this is for the spirits above. If the kutia sticks to the ceiling, it is believed that the family will have a bumper harvest in the coming year.

There are other dishes that are eaten on Christmas Eve in Russia, such as sauerkraut, potato salads, vegetable pies, fried onions, root vegetables, and fried mushrooms. Once the people have finished breaking fast, they will often consume a drink that is called vzvar and it means boil up.

It is a sweet beverage that is made from honey and dried fruit that is then boiled in water thereby creating some kind of syrup.  It is common to find this drink across the country as it is served once a child is born and on Christmas Eve the practice is also kept alive.

Midnight mass in Russia

Perhaps with the perception that all Russians are Orthodox Christians, there is an important phenomenon that you should know about. On Christmas Eve, the people will eat their dinner and then go to their local church for midnight mass. This is far more common in the areas where Roman Catholicism is practiced.

The service lasts for a few hours before people are allowed to go home and enjoy their Christmas feast.

Christmas Day feast in Russia

Once the people are back from the church on midnight mass, they will then begin their feast by eating the food that they had prepped on the previous day. You will find that even people who do not attend the mass will often join the others in celebrating Christmas Day.

The main celebration during this period is a holiday of love, forgiveness, and togetherness. Therefore, you will find many people with their friends and families, and you can see the different traditional Russian dishes being served. Some of the common Russian traditional dishes served include gherkins, sauerkraut, pickled mushrooms, fish, meat pies and vegetable fillings. 

You will find also people drinking sbiten which is a traditional Russian drink that people drink during the festivities. It is usually made from honey and other spices.The food and drinks that are served on Christmas day are much larger than that on Christmas Eve, such as roast pork, meat dumplings, potato dumplings, gingerbread, dried fruit, nut, and cookies.

The cookies are served as desserts, and you will find that they come in different shapes and colors. The most common shapes include deer, goat, and sheep.

Fortune telling during Christmas in Russia

This is a common tradition in different parts of the country; however, it is critical to understand that the Orthodox church in Russia does not condone it. The tradition often involves young and unmarried women who gather in a house or Russian sauna called banya. 

The fortune tellers will tell them what they can expect in the coming year. In most cases, it is about who will marry them and how prosperous the year will be.

In modern-day Russia, you will find that there is tarot reading and rice fortune telling. In rice fortune telling a candle is lit and a bowl is filled with rice. The person is then asked a question and that person will then grab rice from the bowl. They will count the rice grains and if the number is even the wish will come true very soon and if it is odd, it will take some time for their wish to come to fruition.

Christmas day prayer in Russia

It is not just food and customs that you will find unique in Russia, there are traditions about prayers too during the Christmas period. The meal will begin with the head of the household leading prayers.

The prayer is usually the Lord’s prayer, and it is a Thanksgiving prayer that helps people reconnect with their faith. Once the prayer has ended the people will then greet each other ‘Christ is born’ and the respondents will say ‘glorify him’. 

This is common in the Roman Catholic households. Many people are no longer religious as they were in the ancient past so some of the traditions have begun phasing out.

Babushka story

The story of Babushka is a unique story because many people have associated it with Russia.

This story was written in the 20th century and children are being told the story from one generation to another. It is a well-known story in Russia, and it is based on a tale of a Russian woman whose life brushed with the birth of Jesus.

Even though she did not see him physically she felt his presence and she is considered a beloved woman. Babushka was at home tending to her fire before the magi came in and came to greet Jesus after his birth. Since there was a blizzard, Babushka gave magi shelter and she told her that a star was guiding her to where the prince was. 

Babushka wanted to join the magi to see Jesus, but she could not because she was too old, and she regretted it. However, she was blessed to help the magi.

Now that you know all about the Christmas in Russia, let’s learn more about the traditions in the neighboring countries:

Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.