Most Christian Russians belong to the
Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after
the first church service on January 6, Christmas Eve. The church
in Russia still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore their Christmas
celebration is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that we use.
Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important
ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat
berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and
honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled
rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently
observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling.
According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful
For many Russians, a return to religion represents a return to their
old roots and their old culture. Throughout Russia, after Christmas
Eve services, people carrying candles, torches, and homemade lanterns
parade around the church, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents
did long ago. The Krestny Khod procession is led by the highest-ranking
member of the Russian Orthodox Church. After the procession completes
its circle around the church, the congregation reenters and they
sing several carols and hymns before going home for a late Christmas