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For the Russian Orthodox Christians, Christmas or Рождество, (which is celebrated on the 7th of January) is not the biggest holiday, but rather Easter.
During Communism, The New Year became the day that could be considered the big winter holiday of gift giving. This was the biggest holiday of the year, when the Russian Santa Claus, Ded Moroz would bring gifts to children who had been good in the previous year. This holiday is still the biggest celebration in Russia. It’s traditions closely resemble the wests: Santa, decorated tree, gift giving, etc. It should be noted that, although many there are many superstitious/fortune-telling traditions associated with the Russian New Year, it is a secular holiday.
The Christmas celebration season consists of several different holidays. The first holiday is the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 19th, but the two holidays that I’ll focus on are Christmas Eve or Svyata Vecheria (January 6), and Epiphany eve, and Feast of Iordan, known as Shchedriy Vecher (January 18), translated as ‘bountiful night’. This night commemorates the baptism of Christ.
You can watch this very informative video on the Christmas traditions in Ukraine.
Christmas is the holiday of holidays for the western world. We have a whole section of our culture that exists for Christmas. Not only does every American know ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ by age 3, but these beloved Christmas hits are learned even by ESL students the world over.
I wanted to find these cultural Christmas classics in Russian. While I did find some songs in Russian, they were completely unfamiliar to my Russian friends. There is one Russian Christmas song that everyone in Russia knows but it has nothing to do with Christ. You can read more about it on this post.
I did find, however, a few cultural Christmas hits in Ukrainian culture. The Ukrainians seem to have many more specific traditions associated with Christmas than the Russians. When I was trying to find Christmas songs in Russian, the majority of what I came across were Колядки, or kolyadki and щедривки, shchedrivki. Although no Russian whom I talked to seemed to know of any popular carols in Russian, there are several carols that are very popular and well-known among the Ukrainians. Ukraine has maintained many of its religious holidays and still observes them. Part of this Christmas tradition is going caroling from home to home, wishing prosperity to those you sing to.
An example of one of these carols is the song ‘Ukrainian Bell Carol’ or ‘Carol of the Bells’ that is so famous in the west. The name of this song in Ukrainian is Shchedrik. This song as well as other Shchedrivki were traditionally sung on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 13th. On this night people would go door to door, wishing each other bounty (Shchedri means bountiful in Russian and Ukrainian). The lyrics of the song in Ukrainian don’t mention bells, interestingly, but rather a swallow who sings to the head of a household of the bounties that await him. His flocks and fields will prosper and not to mention, he has a dark-eyed and beautiful wife. The lyrics of this song tell us that Christmas resembles more closely the pagan holiday that took place at this time of the year. You can read more about that holiday and read the actual Ukrainian lyrics to the “Carol of the Bells” at this post.
Some of these include songs such as Нова радiсть стала and Добрий вечір тобі. The last one especially is a pop icon. It is the most famous Christmas carol. To demonstrate its place in pop culture I found the video below. This is of a whole bunch of famous Ukrainian pop singers. They are singing Добрий вечір тобі , some of the pop stars include the Eurovision popstar Ruslana, Ani Lorak, Natasha Koroleva, Alexei Vertinsky and others.
Ruslana compiled an entire album of these beloved Ukrainian Christmas carols, sung by various pop musicians.
Ruslana compiled an entire album of these beloved Ukrainian Christmas carols, sung by various pop musicians. The album is entitled “Добрий вечір, тобі …” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dobrij_vechir,_tobi…
I REALIZED THE LINK I POSTED BEFORE DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE. SO I CREATED THIS GOOGLE SITE TO HOST MP3S OF ALL MY FAVORITE RUSSIAN/UKRAINIAN CAROLS. ENJOY!