Christmas History 42. The following quote is from the Morning Post, 28th December 1869, and is written by the paper’s correspondent in St Petersburg:
Thanks to their persistent preference of the Old Style, the Russians have yet 12 days to wait for the coming of the great festival; but it needs no almanac to tell the citizen of Moscow or St. Petersburg that Christmas, if not yet arrived, is very near. The legions of mimic banners and toy swords, of wooden horses and impish-looking masks, which fill the windows of every toy-shop – the dwarfish trees, as yet all unconscious of their approaching consecration, that line the front of the Gostinni-Door – the gigantic dolls which, in all the splendour of gauzy skirts and lace-trimmed bonnets, lie prostrate on every stall like the corpses of Bluebeard’s wives – the complicated games, requiring as much study as a problem of Euclid, daily advertised in every direction – proclaim, as surely as the purchase of holly and mistletoe in our own country, that the opening of the children’s parliament is at hand. In this benighted land, whither the great national institutions of mince-pies and plum-pudding have not yet penetrated, the English sojourner in the tents of Muscovy find it hard to recognise the saturnalia of his childish recollections; but if not kept strictly in accordance with Western rule, Christmas-day has still its full share of honour at the hands of the orthodox nation. In riches or in poverty, in the city or in the field, the Russian still loves his holiday and rejoices in it with all the boyish unthinking gaiety of that strange Muscovite race which, through centuries of bondage and barbarism, has still preserved its quaint humour and intense enjoyment of the present moment. Christmas may not be like Easter – it may not be the event of the year, the “white day” of the northern calendar – but it is still a festival of the Church, a season of joy and thanksgiving, and it never comes without a welcome. It is welcomed on southern steppes that weary the eye with their unending level, where the half savage peasant crosses himself on the morning of the Nativity, and prays to the holy Boji-Mater to remember her poor servant. It is welcomed in remote villages, far from railway or high road, by groups of carollers in sheep-skin coats, who sing hymns of rejoicing under the windows of the little rough-hewn log-huts, ever and anon holding up a wide-mouthed sack to receive the largesse of brown loaves, sausages, knobs of cheese, or copper pieces, flung to them by those whom they have serenaded. It is welcomed in Moscow, the city of fantastic splendour, where the gilded domes of a thousand churches look down upon the beautiful ritual of the orthodox faith, and the red Tartar wall of the sacred Kremlin, girt by surrounding snows, glows in the sunshine like a ruby set in ivory. It is welcomed in Imperial Petersburg, where the German fashion of Christmas trees and Christmas presents still reign supreme, the Russians being as yet not civilised enough to be ashamed of enjoying themselves. And truly they have their reward. Nowhere in the world can one witness a scene of livelier, heartier bustle than that presented by a Russian household for two or three days before the great celebration.
I have to say that I identify with the subjects of this article in “being as yet not civilised enough to be ashamed of enjoying themselves”. That’s the kind of “civilisation” I am happy to do without, especially at Christmas!
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