Great American Conversations
                    With The Alumni of RHS
               Issue 118 ~ December 25, 2000

Dateline: December 25

Subj:  Only 365 Shopping Days Left, unless...
From: Sandra Genoway (Jeneaue-Spruksts) ('62)
Edmonds, WA

Hey!  There's only 365 shopping days left until
Christmas; that is, unless you happen to be an "Old
Calendar" Eastern Orthodox Christian.  They go by the
Julian Calendar for all of their Holy Feast Days, so
Christmas 2000 on the Julian Calendar (Dec. 25) is
January 7, 2001 on the Gregorian (modern) Calendar,
created by the Roman Pope Gregory in the 1500's.  Since
the Eastern Orthodox Church was a separate entity from
the Roman Catholic Church by then, they decided not to
follow this new calendar, but to stick to the calendar
(Julian) that was in use at the time of Christ.  Some
more modernist EOC's have, however, changed to following
the modern calendar.  January 7 is the true Russian
Christmas, which was not allowed to be openly celebrated
in the Soviet Union during the communist regime, for some
70 years.  It was, however, celebrated in secret by those
devout Christians in underground churches.  The Moscow
Patriarchate State Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to
have Christmas (for show) on January 7, and other than
that, the Soviets or Red Party members only celebrated
New Years on January 1 (Gregorian-modern calendar).  Now,
have I thoroughly confused you?  Julian Calendar
Christmas is still observed in parts of England and the
U.S. Appalachia as "Old Christmas."

If you have never had occasion to have a Russian
Christmas and share this delightful Holiday with Russians
(Russian-Americans, new Russian immigrants), you do not
know what you are missing!  First, you go to Church on
Christmas Eve (January 6) Vigil in the evening, starting
at about 6:00 p.m., which is the traditional Russian all-
night vigil service, and nowadays lasts about two hours.
The church is all decorated and aglow with cathedral
chandelier dimmed and large and small candles glowing;
there are natural, undecorated Christmas trees (yes, more
than one), and evergreen boughs and flowers decorate the
walls, door archways, and pertinent Holy Day Icons.  The
priests and bishop have on their "finest" white, red or
gold brocade robes, trimmed in Europa embroidery and
braid; their miters twinkling with "jewels."  Of course,
the parishioners are wearing their finest clothing.  The
women are in furs, if they have any; the men in their
best suits and coats.  Of course, there are the younger-
styled and also the less "fancy" dressers there, too, and
all are welcomed!  If you are a lover of fine music, this
is where you will hear some; Russian choirs have been
renowned throughout history for their beautiful singing
and style of music.  Even Tchaikovsky wrote liturgical
music; Rimsky-Korsakov used parts of the Pascha liturgy
in his "Russian Easter," including bells.  We are not
talking "liturgical chants" here; this is full-scale
notes, similar to Western sacred music, but with
different sounds, rhythm and tones that cannot be
described by me. On Christmas Day, you go back to church
for the Christmas-Day Liturgy ("mass"), after which you
get together with loved ones and friends in the church
hall for the break-Nativity Fast dinner feast, after six
weeks of eating only vegetables, fruits, bread and a
little wine and oil (only on Sundays and Feast Days), as
a period of preparation to greet the Newborn Holy Christ
Child.  It is also a very good health benefit, as the
body and soul are purged during this time of prayer and
fasting in spiritual contemplation of Christ's Nativity,
and looking forward to His Return.

At home, the Christmas tree is set up and decorated on
Christmas Eve day (January 6).  After going to church on
Christmas Eve, the family comes home and eats "kutya,"
the traditional meal made of cooked cereal with raisins,
honey and cinnamon. The table is spread with straw
(representation, from the manger) and an Icon of the
Nativity scene is placed in the center of the table.
According to tradition, wild beasts harm no one on this
night, in honor of the Christ Child's Birth.

Russians love to party!  A Russian Christmas lasts twelve
(12) days, during which time people go from home to home
in celebration of the season, with their own family on
the first day, and starting with the second day, going to
their friends' houses to parties and get-togethers.  Each
day of the twelve, gifts are exchanged with family and
friends, starting with the humblest gift on the first day
and ending with the most extravagant gift on the twelfth
day.  Children go from house to house carrying a huge
star and singing Christmas carols (Russian carols, called
kolyadki, are always spiritual in commemoration of
Christ's Birth).

At the parties, the vodka flows like water, as well as
other "spirits", too, and Russians always serve foods
like beluga or salmon caviar, roast goose, duckling,
turkey, pheasant, ham, beef, venison, pike and sturgeon
fish, and pirogi, which are large pies made with beef or
chicken, potatoes, onions, celery, cabbage, rice,
sauerkraut, mushrooms, carrots, peas (several or more of
any of these ingredients) made in a three-sided baking
pan, with one "door" side to get the pie out.  Other
foods included are Russian pastries (similar to French
pastries), torte cakes, honey cakes, rum babas (cakes
soaked in rum syrup), krendel cakes, khvorost, or "birch
bark" (a deep-fried cookie strip that is twisted and
after frying, is dipped in confectioner's sugar), Russian
tea cookies, baklava, Russian cream (like ice cream, or
like a "charlotte"), and of course, kisel, which is
similar to our "smoothies", made with fruit and milk or
cream.  If you are on a diet, better stay away, because
you will be sorely tempted to break it! \ During this
time of celebration, no fasting is allowed, except for on
the Eve of Theophany, the twelfth night.

During the twelve days of celebrations, the clergy come
around to the parishioners' homes to bless them with Holy
Water, and to join in the festivities. It is the Russian
Orthodox Christian tradition that you cannot turn anyone
away from your home, especially during these Holy Days,
since you may be entertaining Angels, Saints, or even
Christ, Himself, unawares.  The twelve days of Christmas
culminate in the Feast of Theophany; or, Epiphany in the
Western world.

The eve of Theophany ("Twelfth Night") is a strict fast
day when you eat nothing until the first star appears in
the heavens that night (pray for a clear night).  In
Russia, and in Russian communities elsewhere in the
world, on the Feast Day, itself, after the Liturgy, the
clergy and parishioners proceed to rivers and lakes for
the "blessing of the waters".  In this procession,
banners with icons are carried and censors leave clouds
of incense smoke billowing to the heavens.  Cannons roar
and bells peal as a huge cross is lowered into the holes
cut in the ice of the frozen rivers and lakes.  After the
water is blessed, this Holy Water is then bottled and
kept throughout the year until the following Feast Day
and is partaken of on an empty stomach, as needed, for
spiritual and medicinal purposes. During this blessings
of the waters ritual, for spiritual purposes, some people
jump into the icy water; in a thousand years' time in
Russia there has never been a case of someone getting ill
or dying at that time, since the water is infused with
the Power of the Holy Spirit and is, itself, Holy.  These
blessed rivers and lakes are called "Jordans" on that
day. The processions are going to the "Jordan", and they
commemorate the baptism of Christ Jesus when He went down
to the Jordan River and was baptized by St. John, the
Baptist, at which time the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy
Spirit) was Manifested, which is why the Feast is called
Theophany; that is, the Manifestation of God.  It is also
a commemoration of the visit of the Magi and the
slaughter of the 14,000 infants by Herod's soldiers.  It
is the culmination of the Christmas season, and in the
very early church, was Christmas Day, before a separate
Christmas Day was created.  The day after Theophany
(January 20), the Christmas tree is taken down. So, now,
maybe that explains why, on some houses, you see
Christmas lights and decorations for many more days after
the traditional American Christmas/New Years' Day
celebration is over. You may have seen a different kind
of "Santa Claus" decoration, too.

In addition to the traditional, spiritual Christmas, the
Russians also have "Grandfather Frost" who is a white-
bearded old man dressed in a long velvet-type robe and
coat trimmed in fur and wearing a fur hat.  He is
accompanied by the "Snow Maiden" who is a beautiful
teenage girl lavishly dressed in a decorated and trimmed
brocade robe and with a kokoshnik (or huge tiara) on her
head, with silver, gold, pearls and jewels embedded in
its design.  Together, they go about, bringing presents
for good little boys and girls, and switches for naughty
ones.  This Russian Christmas myth is not to be confused
with "Father Christmas" of Western European lore, nor
with St. Nicholas, who really did exist and became the
Patron Saint of many Eastern and Western Christians, and
who also is remembered in Holland as "Sinter Klaas" who
brings good children presents and naughty children lumps
of coal in their shoes on December 6.  St. Nicholas was
later commercialized into "Santa Claus", after the
popularity of the Christmas poem, "T'was The Night Before
Christmas", became a holiday tradition.

Now you have learned something more of what some other
people in America (and in Old Russia, a place in the
heart) observe as their Christmas Holiday, and what
traditions are celebrated and remembered from year to

Merry Christmas ("M I P", and Joyeaux Noel)
from Sandra Genoway and George Spruksts in Edmonds.
That concludes this issue of THE SANDBOX folks. Please
include your class year and maiden name, (if applicable),
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Alumni of Richland High School, Richland Washington,
AKA Columbia High School, representing classes from 1942
through 2000. Visit the THE SANDBOX website.

Al Parker (53)
Shippenville, PA