Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. In prerevolutionary Russia, on the eve of Christmas there was caroling in the streets of towns and villages. Boys carried a brightly painted star with a candle before it, turning it as they went and stopping in front of churches and houses to sing. Christmas eve was, as well, the last day of the six – week Christmas fast, and for all the devout, ancient custom dictated that no one eat until the first star glimmered in the sky. The traditional dish was kutya, boiled wheat sweetened with honey and sprinkled with poppy seeds. The snow of the night before Epiphany (another name for Christmas) was considered to be the most precious: women collected it from the top of the haystacks, believing that it could whiten linen as not even the sun, it could cure pure circulation, dizziness and cramps in the joints, and it could protect the household from the fiery snakes which flew through the air waiting only to fly down the chimney and transform themselves into a handsome young man so charming that a maiden could not resist his wiles!
In St Petersburg (as well as in Moscow) on the day of the Epiphany one of the most brilliant religious ceremonies, the Blessing of Waters, takes place. This ceremony, a sanctification based on the immersion of Jesus in the Jordan, was a rite dating back into antiquity, one which foreign visitors found both moving and mysterious. On the Ice of the Neva River, in front of Winter Palace (which is now a part of the State Hermitage) an open temple was erected, inside of which a hole was cut in the ice and called the Jordan. After the liturgy held in the Court Chapel (you can look at it during our private tour in St Petersburg) bishops issued from Winter Palace in their richest habits and proceeded to the Jordan singing anthems. In splendid attire, the Imperial family and the court followed. After many prayers the priest blessed the water with his uplifted hands three times and consecrated it by immersing a holy cross in the water three times, while cannons were reverberated in solemn cadence. After the ceremony, mothers hastened to dip their children in the opening in the ice to bless them, and people flocked to draw water, for it was believed that the water so consecrated remained for years as fresh as when drawn from the river and has the power to cure the sick of their diseases.
After the Revolution it was prohibited to celebrate religious festivities and they stopped studying the bible at school. But now, after Perestroika, you can attend Christmas service at any church in St Petersburg. Please have a look at the newborn Jesus Christ and his mother Maria completely made of artificial ice: the picture was taken inside the private museum of Ice in St Petersburg in January 2012 as the present winter is so warm that there is no ice and snow in our city at all, the temperature is above zero and nobody can even dream about a traditional Christmas frosts.