January 6, the day before the Orthodox Nativity of Christ, is specially marked in the calendar. It is not for nothing that he has two names: in everyday life, January 6 is often called Christmas Eve, in the Church – the Eve of the Nativity of Christ. The word “evening” means the evening on the eve of the holiday, and the common name – “Christmas Eve” – comes from the name of a dish made of boiled wheat (or rice) with honey, which on this day for many Orthodox believers becomes the only unpretentious food. The only one, since Christmas Eve is the last and strictest day of the Nativity Fast.
There was a tradition among the people: on Christmas Eve there is no food until the first star. The logic is simple: when the Infant Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a new star was lit in the East – the Gospel of Matthew tells about this. So the believers tried not to eat, to fast until the first star rose in the sky. “On Christmas Eve, before Christmas,” we read from Ivan Shmelev, “it used to be that they did not eat until the star. Kutya was cooked from wheat, with honey; broth – from prunes, pears, whispering … They put it under the image, on hay. Why? .. And as if – a gift to Christ. Well … as if He is in the hay, in a manger … “Kutya Shmelev calls it” syrupy “, the broth is a strong decoction of prunes, pears and dried apricots – they are” whispers “. But the main thing in this description of the Christmas Eve table is the understanding that our fast is our sacrifice, our offering to the born Jesus: we ourselves do not eat, but I will put this food in the nursery for the Divine Infant. Fasting is always an offering of our love to God. But, I emphasize, it was a pious tradition of the people themselves not to eat until the first star, the church charter did not make such strict prescriptions.
They were preparing for Christmas in advance, Christmas Eve was the apotheosis of preparation: the expectation of a miracle was already hovering in the houses, an atmosphere of love, joy and mystery reigned. Previously, in the absence of gadgets and TV, they knew how to create this atmosphere. And it is not surprising that the memories of the family’s preparations for Christmas, the holiday itself, were imprinted in the memory of the memoirists so vividly and vividly.
“The Christmas tree was decorated with the whole family. From the morning on Christmas Eve, on the piano, on tables and armchairs, on window sills and even right on the floor, light cardboard boxes with nests inside appeared, where birds of paradise huddled in sawdust, shavings, silk paper, cotton wool, grandfathers-frosts, girls-roughs, bright multi-colored glass toys … a bizarre, fantastic world of children’s happiness, so fragile and so beautiful, so magically unreal and at the same time now, after many years, seems to be the only real of everything that was once then in life, “- recalled in the late 80s the poetess Elizaveta Rachinskaya. The same age as the century, who survived all its upheavals and preserved for life the memory of the “bright miracle of a family holiday.”
Preparation began with a Christmas tree and a trip to the Christmas tree market. “Our Christmas is coming from afar, quietly. Deep snows, frosts are stronger,” Ivan Shmelev told his seven-year-old French godson. “Before Christmas, three days before Christmas, there is a forest of trees in the markets, in the squares. And what kind of trees! There are as many trees as you want in Russia. Not like here – stamens. Near our Christmas tree … as it warms up, spreads its paws, – thicket. On Theater Square, it used to be – a forest … And the snow fell – I lost my way! Men in sheepskin coats, like in a forest The people walk, choose. The dogs in the trees are like wolves, right. Bonfires are burning, warm yourself up. Smoke pillars. Frosty Russia, but … it’s warm! “
The choice of the Christmas tree and its decoration were taken seriously. Here is what we read from Anna Grigorievna Dostoevskaya: “Fyodor Mikhailovich, an extremely gentle father, constantly thought about how to amuse his children. He especially cared about arranging a Christmas tree: he certainly demanded that I buy a large and branched tree, decorate it myself (decorations changed from year to year per year), climbed onto stools, inserting the upper candles and affirming the “star” at the top.
Decorating a forest beauty is a whole ritual. In some families, children were attracted to making toys and hanging them on fluffy paws-branches. In others, adults decorated the Christmas tree, behind closed doors, trying to make sure that the children did not see it before Christmas. Anastasia Tsvetaeva shared: “The adults hid the Christmas tree from us children with exactly the same passion with which we dreamed of seeing it.” But in the autobiographical story of Alexei Tolstoy “Nikita’s Childhood” we encounter a different tradition.
“A large frozen tree was dragged into the living room. The groin knocked for a long time and hewed it with an ax, fitting the cross. The tree was finally lifted, and it turned out to be so high that the soft green tip bent under the ceiling. Cold smelled from the spruce, but its branches gradually thawed and rose , fluffed up, and the whole house smelled of pine needles. The children brought heaps of chains and cardboard boxes with decorations into the living room, substituted chairs for the tree and began to clean it. But soon it turned out that there were not enough things. I had to glue the nuts again, gild the nuts, tie them to gingerbread and silver ropes for Crimean apples. The children sat at work all evening, until Lilya, with her head bowed on her elbow with a crumpled bow, fell asleep at the table. “
Read with what a lively feeling the eldest daughter of Leo Tolstoy Tatyana Sukhotina-Tolstaya recalls this making of toys: “In the evenings we all gathered around a round table under a lamp and got to work … Mom brought a large bag of walnuts, a cherry glue…, and each of us was given a brush and a notebook with thin gold and silver leaves that trembled from any movement of the air.
Photo: Christmas morning, 1916 by Henry Mosler (1841 – 1920)
We brushed the walnut with brushes, then put it on a gold piece of paper and carefully, barely touching it with our fingers, attached the piece of paper to the walnut. The finished nuts were placed on a dish and then, when they dried out, a pink ribbon in the form of a loop was pinned to them with a pin so that the nut could be hung on the tree on this loop. It was the most difficult work: it was necessary to find a place in the nut where the pin could freely enter, and it was necessary to stick it all into the nut. Often the pin was bent, not going into the nut to the head, fingers were often pricked, sometimes the ribbon was poorly captured and, unable to withstand the weight of the nut, it was plucked out and cut off. “
Well, is it not surprising how clearly these childhood sensations of fingers from touching a rough nut, which were gilded more than half a century ago, emerge in the memory of memoirists? !! And why, after decades, lips remember the gentle touch of the light, thinnest petals of golden paper, which you, a child, blow away to take another? !! Just childhood memories? No, the atmosphere of mystery, wonder and love! Christmas!
“When decorating the Christmas tree, the procedures adopted once and for all were observed, – we read in the book by Elizaveta Rachinskaya“ The Kaleidoscope of Life. ”- In the depths, closer to the trunk, first Crimean apples were hung, shining through the dark needles with their pink barrels; then there were nuts that never were allowed above the middle of the tree.The trunk and the cross, covered with cotton with sparkles, were entangled with gold and silver paper chains and chains made of colored candy.At the bottom were hung chocolate figurines of animals, birds, children and wonderful printed gingerbread cookies with pictures, unforgettably tasty, without which they could not do Not a single Christmas. The higher, the tree became more elegant and brighter. Shiny glass balls hung on the tips of the branches, birds of paradise swayed, spreading their tails; raising their sails, fabulous ships sailed somewhere into an unknown distance on green coniferous waves, angels flew, clutching miniature Christmas trees to their chest, cheerful bells at the very top, near the radiant Star of Bethlehem, seemed to be about to ring t crystal festive ringing, and silver fluffy chains and trembling, flowing “rain”, thrown like a sparkling net, over all this splendor, turned the tree into some kind of fabulous vision, from which it was difficult to take your eyes off. “
Decorations and gifts on the tree are in memory of the gifts of the Magi, which they brought to the born Christ. The star at the top is the symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. Burning candles are like our souls burning with faith and love.
Cooked on Christmas Eve and the Christmas table. In Russia, there used to be a special word in use, denoting eating fast food, that is, non-fast food at the end of the fast – the word “breaking the fast”, familiar to us from Russian classics. So, they broke their fast after Christmas fast already on January 7, after the night festive divine service with a night liturgy – the All-night Vigil.
Pork was an obligatory dish on the Christmas table – at home the richer cooked the whole pig. The people believed: pork was ordered to be eaten at Christmas as a punishment! She did not allow Jesus the Infant to sleep in the manger – she grunted. That is why it is called a pig! In richer houses, they stuffed a bird, baked special gingerbread in the shape of a goat or a cow – goats – a symbol of animals that in the barn with their breath warmed the Infant Christ.
Gifts for Christmas are another story. They were cooked, of course, not on Christmas Eve itself, before. But on Christmas Eve, the preparations were completed and hidden under the tree, by the cross, under a white sheet. Anastasia Tsvetaeva recalls “golden edged books in heavy, with gold, bindings, with pictures, from which the heart ached” – the folios were presented to them with her sister. And here is what Leo Tolstoy’s son Ilya says: “The stock of our toys was replenished once a year, on the Christmas tree … On Christmas Eve, tables with gifts were placed along the wall: colored letter paper, sealing wax, pencil case, this was almost always given to everyone … A huge doll,” closing eyes “… Children’s kitchen, pots, pans, plates and forks, a bear on wheels shaking its head and mooing, wind-up cars, various horse riders, mice, steam engines, and something else they didn’t give us.”
Photo: Preparing for Christmas, 1896 Sergei Dosekin (1869 – 1916)
Children also prepared gifts made with their own hands, presented them to their parents, poorer children, who were invited to the house for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve in the evening “it used to happen, waiting for a star, wipe all the glass. There is ice on the glass, from the frost. Here, brother, it’s beauty! .. Christmas trees on them, stains, like lace. If you rub your fingernail – you can’t see the stars? You can see! First! the star, and there is another … The windows turned blue. The stove is shooting from the frost, the shadows are jumping. And there are more and more stars. And what kind of stars! .. You open the window – it cuts, it burns with frost. And the stars ..! The black sky is boiling with light , shivers, flickers. And what stars! .. Mustachioed, lively, beat, prick the eyes. There is a frost in the air, through it there are more stars, shining with different lights, – blue crystal, and blue, and green, – in the arrows And you will hear the ringing. And as if these are the stars – ringing! Frosty, echoing, – right, silver. You won’t hear that, no …
For the all-night vigil. You will put on your boots, a sheepskin coat made of a ram, a hat, a little hood – the frost does not bite. Come out – melodious ringing. And the stars. You touch the gate, and it will shower with a crash. Frost! The snow is blue, strong, squeaks thinly. Down the street – snowdrifts, mountains. There are pink lights in the windows. And the air … – blue, silvery dust, smoky, starry. The gardens are smoking. Birches are white visions. Jackdaws sleep in them. Pillars of fire, high up to the stars. Star ringing, melodious – floats, will not be silent; sleepy, ringing-miracle, ringing-vision, praises God in the highest, – Christmas.
You walk and think: now I will hear a gentle chant-prayer, simple, special, kind of childish, warm … – and for some reason I see a bed, stars.
Thy Christmas, Christ our God,
Worlds of Reason World…
And for some reason it seems that the old, long-standing tune of the sacred … has always been. And it will be “(Ivan Shmelev” Summer of the Lord “).