Time for Christmas celebrations in Russia

In countries across the world and in Russia, Orthodox Christians are celebrating Christmas. It falls on January 7 according to the Julian calendar. This is the first Christmas since the re-unification of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the mother church in Russia after an 80-year split.

The main ceremony took place at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow.

The cathedral is a replica of the original, which was destroyed by the Soviet government in the 1930s. It was completed in the year 2000.

The service is traditionally led by the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksy II.

Aleksy II has offered his best wishes to Orthodox believers on the holy day.

"On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ and the oncoming New Year I congratulate all of you, my dear brothers and sisters. May the light of the Bethlehem Star always shine upon our souls, giving us the strength to follow the path of Christ Himself Who bestows on us the gift of health, peace and spiritual fortitude, and let it lead us by the difficult roads of life. May the coming Year of Divine Goodness be for the Holy Church and the people of our Land a peaceful, creative and successful one. I congratulate all of you on this feast," Aleksy II said.

Twenty-seven thousand Russian Orthodox parishes around the world are also celebrating.

When the first star appears in the night sky, observant Orthodox Christians can end their fast of 40 days and receive Communion.

With religious holidays banned after the 1917 revolution, for most Soviet people the New Year became winter's biggest celebration.

It wasn't until 75 years later that Christmas officially came back and is now enjoying something of a renaissance.

While Europe has already celebrated Christmas, the Russians are now getting involved in the festivities.

Soviet Russia took on the Gregorian calendar long used by most of the Western world.

However, the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar that's now 13 days behind, so the Russian Christmas is celebrated on January 7.

President Vladimir Putin traditionally visits different places throughout Russia to celebrate Christmas.

Only once, during his first presidential term, has he attended Russia's main cathedral, Christ the Saviour, on Christmas Eve.

This year the President chose Russia's northern city of Veliky Ustyug, the place which is known as the home of Father Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.

Despite freezing temperatures - it's around minus 30 degrees Celsius there - people flock to the popular destination.

In modern Russia Christmas is again marked in a grand fashion, with the faithful gathering for all-night Mass in churches across the country.

"Russian Christmas is about fir-trees, decorated cities, decorated churches and snow. But the most important ritual is the service, where worshippers have a unique chance to be close to God when he is born," says Father Igor Palkin.

The days following Christmas, known as 'Svyatki', are the time for carnivals, games and fortune-telling. Popular methods of doing the latter are burning paper or pouring molten wax into water are centuries-old rituals to find out what lies ahead.

After decades of imposed neglect, Christmas is back on the Russian calendar.

Whether it's a spiritual ceremony or a secular exchange of presents, for millions around the globe marking the birth of Jesus is first of all a happy occasion.

Now Russians are once again remembering how to celebrate it.

Russia isn't the only country celebrating Christmas at this time. Eastern Orthodox Churches all over the world have been marking the occasion in their own traditional ways. ( RT )

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