Christmas Around the World: Russia
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To consider how Christmas is celebrated in Russia.
Preparation and materials
You will need a set of Russian stacking dolls. If this is not available, a suitable image is available at: http://tinyurl.com/z3ewcdp
You will also need a map or globe so that you can show the children where Russia is.
- A suitable image is available at: http://tinyurl.com/hovpphw
- A blank world map is available at: http://tinyurl.com/huaptxs
You will also need some images of winter scenes in Russia:
- ice skaters, available at: http://tinyurl.com/h6bura6
- thick snow on trees and bushes, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jo6emz4
- a park in the snow, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hyrd296
Optional: you may wish to use seven readers for the ‘Assembly’, Step 5.
Optional: you may wish to play some Russian Orthodox music at the end of the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to do this. An example is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTnxFgmQLKc
Show the map of the world or the globe to the children.
Ask them if they can point out the location of Russia.
Ask the children to describe what the weather is usually like in Russia in December. Ask them what types of weather they prefer.
Show the images of winter scenes in Russia.
Explain that winter in Russia is usually cold, with temperatures getting down to about -10 degrees Celsius. The days are short, with about eight hours of daylight.
Many Christians in Russia follow the Orthodox tradition and the practices that they follow are often very different to those in other countries.
Explain that you (or the readers) are going to share some of the Christmas traditions that happen in Russia.
Reader 1: This is Misha’s account of her experience of Christmas.
A ‘true’ Russian Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. For Russian Orthodox Christians, this day is extremely holy. The Christmas celebrations begin in November when fasting before Christmas begins. During the fast, Russian people stop eating any animal products, with the exception of seafood.
Reader 2: As with other Eastern traditions, Russian Christmas is based on the old calendar, which means that Christmas Day is on 7 January. On the night of Christmas Eve, many Russian Christians go to church for the Christmas Mass, and then they go home. People go to bed and then get up in the morning and go straight to church for the Christmas Day service.
Reader 3: After church, people go to the home of one of their relatives so that the family can all be together. Here, the family exchange gifts and have Christmas lunch - the main meal of Christmas. All day, the children will go from door to door carolling the song ‘Thy Nativity’, as will the church choir.
Reader 4: Russian people often decorate their homes with Christmas trees and put pine leaves on their front doors and in the house. The greeting ‘S rozhdyestvom Hristovym’ is said, which means ‘Congratulations on the birth of Christ’. It is a time for families and friends to be together.
Reader 5: Christmas is celebrated for six days. The Christmas tree is usually taken down at the end of January after the feast day of the baptism of Christ.
Reader 6: This is Sergei’s account of his experience of Christmas.
There are primarily two types of Christmas. The first is the Orthodox celebration, which begins with decorating and touching a family icon in the centre of a wheel. From there, families go from door to door singing ‘Christ is born’ and spinning the wheel to send the message into each home.
Reader 7: The second kind of Christmas is centred on 31 December. A ‘snowmaiden’ brings bags of sweets for the children and Grandfather Frost (‘Dyed Moroz’ in Russian) listens to girls and boys sing songs and recite poems. Then, he takes little trinkets off the Christmas tree and gives out small gifts for the children to share.
Show the Russian dolls and invite a volunteer to separate them. Ask some volunteers to stand in a line, each holding a doll. Ask the children to look carefully at the dolls and describe what they see. Point out that each doll is almost identical except for its size. Show how the dolls fit inside one another, with the smallest doll at the centre.
Point out that celebrations of Christmas are different all over the world. However, despite the differences, the celebration is essentially the same – that of the birth of Jesus. Just as the tiniest doll is at the centre of the Russian doll set, likewise, a tiny baby is at the centre of the Christmas celebration.
Time for reflection
In his Christmas message of 7 January 2016, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church for Moscow and all Russia said the following.
‘The true Christian cannot hate his neighbours or those afar. “Ye have heard, – the Lord says to those who hear him, – that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5.43-45). May these words of the Saviour become a guiding force in our lives and may evil and hatred towards others never find a place in our hearts.’
Let us think about these words and never let hatred towards others find a place in our hearts.
Help us to love those around us.
Help us to love our enemies and always work for peace.
You may wish to play some Russian Orthodox music as the children leave. An example is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTnxFgmQLKc