Earlier during the year this blogger visited “Life in Russia” and I asked her to write a post that she felt reflected “Life in Russia”, when I read it I knew it had to wait for the right season. That season is here! Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the States and everyone is in a joyful spirit, it time to start preparing for Christmas. I thought this holiday season it would be fun to read the wonderful story that Julia shares about her early life in Russia. She is a writer and published author. Currently she’s is writing and blogging from the United States, her most recent novel Moscow Dreams is a must read . It’s wonderful that she has blessed us with her post with us here at “Life in Russia” I want to thank her for sharing. I hope you take the time to visit her blog: All Things Russian: Stories, Culture, and Food.
What story does your Christmas tree tell? Do you have ornaments you bought while visiting a foreign country? Hand-made decorations your kids made years ago? Ornaments given to you by friends and relatives? The tree in my parents’ Moscow apartment tells the story of our family as it changed with the changes in Russia.
One of the oldest ornaments, a German-made glass angel covered with a beaded net, comes from my paternal grandmother’s childhood. It is. In the early 20th century, most Christmas ornaments in Russia were imported, mainly from Germany. Many, but not all, ornaments had Christian themes. Two other ornaments on our family tree are pagan symbols typical of early 20th century Russia: a cotton sun and a paper-mâché rooster. The mix of Christian and pre-Christian symbols is a reminder of the “double faith” period in Russia when the Russian peasants, while declaring a Christian faith and attending churches, also practiced pagan rites and believed in pagan superstitions. Then again, anyone who has lived through at least one cold and dreary Russian winter would understand the Russian obsession with the sun and warmth during long December nights.
In 1917, after the Communist revolution, religion and all religious celebrations were banned. No Christmas ornaments were sold or produced. Faithful to their Christian beliefs, Grandma’s family still celebrated Christmas and made their own ornaments. From that time, we have a cat and a fish made of tin foil and painted with something that now looks like faded nail polish.
In 1937, succumbing to the people’s desire to keep the tree-trimming tradition, the Soviet government announced the creation of a new holiday symbol and a new holiday – the New Year’s tree and the New Year’s Eve. Factories went back to producing ornaments and molding ideology. No more angels or biblical animals, of course. Instead, red stars topped many trees; glass balls with portraits of Karl Marx and Lenin, figurines of ice-skaters and gymnasts hung from the branches. The ornament my family still has from that time is a clip-on parachutist, his glass parachute covered with a thin net for a more realistic effect. Communism, sports, and the military now added themselves to the Christian and pagan symbols on our family’s tree.
During World War II, Grandma followed her physician husband to the front lines, taking their young son (my father) with them. There was no time or space for tree ornaments. Once again, they made their own. Mostly, these were glazed pine cones and nuts. As a reminder of their four years in field hospitals, my father has three snowflakes that Grandma made from medical gauze and starched to perfection.
After the war, the ornament production continued with the themes of space exploration and work. Quite a few rockets, cosmonauts, and farm workers adorn my parents’ tree, as well as at least five different corn ornaments. All are large, glassy and glittery, almost kitsch. Why corn, you ask? Another pagan symbol? Not quite. After Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushev visited the United States in 1959, he fell in love with the idea of growing corn in Russia. Soon after, the ornament factories turned to making corn and other vegetables. Unfortunately, Khrushev’s corn-growing aspirations were cut short by the harsh Russian weather. The glass and glittery variety is the only type of corn the Russian cold climate could sustain. Adding a bit of Arizona spirit to my parents’ Russian Christmas are two new ornaments – a red copper saguaro and an angel my son made of a paper clip. What new ornaments will the new year bring? Happy Holidays to all of you!