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Winter Traditions of the Russian People
February 6, 2019 13:50


It is no coincidence that the Russian winter, with its generous snowfalls and bitter frosts, has become one of the symbols of Russia. The Slavs have long loved the winter and expressed it in numerous folk proverbs, sayings, and riddles. The beauty of winter has always been admired by Russian poets and artists.
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Our distant ancestors pictured winter as a big strong woman, a severe sovereign wearing a bearskin fur coat and wolfskin top boots. She commanded snowfalls and snowdrifts, blizzards and snowstorms, winds and severe frosts.
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Appolinary Vasnetsov, Winter Dream, 1908-1914

“Winter will ask what is in store from summer”, - an old Russian proverb goes. Indeed, it was of vital importance to prepare thoroughly for wintertime, because “one day of summer feeds you all winter through”. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, berries and mushrooms harvested in summer and preserved for winter were not only delicacies in winter, but also a remedy for illnesses.

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However, the favorite winter fun of the Russians - sleigh rides - fell right on frosty days, when the bright sun illuminated the sparkling snow-covered fields and forests!
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Nikolai Dubovskoy. In the Cloister. Trinity Sergius Lavra, 1917

There is a Russian proverb: "In the winter cold – nobody is old”. Indeed, the winter spirit invigorates, causing the cheeks to glow and the eyes to shine. The most severe frosts, according to popular observations, came after January 24th in Russia. It was then that the owners took special care of their livestock, making sure that it was kept warm and full-bellied.
The Russians have always respected the snow: “Thank you, frost, for bringing snow”, “Snow drifts on the fields - the grain harvest in the bins”, “Though the snow is cold, it shelters from frost”. In the olden days, people in the know referred to the snow as peasant wealth and rejoiced if high snow drifts reliably covered crops from the cold.
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Lidia Brodskaya, Frosty Morning, 1957

And when it was freezing outdoors, the villagers of olden days would arrange cozy gatherings. In the long winter evenings, both old and young got together in one house. Girls brought handicrafts with them: they embroidered, wove, sewed, spun, and knitted. 

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Konstantin Korovin, Winter Landscape, 1927

Useful handiwork was accompanied by folk songs, sayings, and jokes. The elders would tell the young people about their lives, as well as the mysterious powers of nature and the wonders of Russian saints. Thus in a warm wooden hut, around a hot puffing samovar, heartwarming conversations took place as the youth adopted the experience of their parents and other elders.
In addition, the winter in Russia was the favorite wedding time. “From Epiphany Day to Pancake Week is the time of weddings,” the proverb says. 
To top it all, winter had an array of all-favorite Russian holidays: the New Year, Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, and Pancake Week. Lots of rituals were associated with each of these holidays. On Christmas evenings, the youth utterly enjoyed themselves with holiday carols and divinations.
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Ivan Pokhitonov. Snow Effect
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Russians prepared especially carefully and assiduously for the great Orthodox holidays. Some of those old traditions, for example, associated with the cooking of Christmas kutya or the consecration of water on the Epiphany night, have come down to us. 
However, during the Lent, noisy merry-making and songs were strictly forbidden.



Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Winter Russian Traditions Tours to Russia Russian Holidays Russian Souvenirs 

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