The secret is out or at least it should be. Those of us celebrating Christmas on the Old Calendar (O.C. January 7) are still very much within the season, the 12 appointed days of celebration after the event, which makes it a total of 24 if you count somewhat the 12 days celebrated after December 25. So if you are the type that thinks Christmas comes and goes too quickly, think about visiting a Russian, Serbian, or even a Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the Julian Calendar. Then hold on to your tree, keep up those decorations, and don’t throw away that fruit cake because the O.C. gives us another 12 days to party!
The festive mood of this twelve day extension is never more evident than at the Russian Yolka, a kind of Christmas Pageant, which my children perform in today. Sponsored by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Epiphany in Boston, this yearly holiday extravaganza features so much gastronomical goodness, cultural enrichment, and downright Christian exuberance, a participant can barely take it all in. The customary plays rehearsed for months by the children focus on themes of winter, Russian history and folk tales, and of course have the Nativity of Jesus Christ as their centerpiece. A visit from Ded Moroz (literally “Grandfather Frost”, the Russian version of Santa Claus) concludes the festivities with more than just the distribution of gifts and a jolly “ho ho ho”; the children must each sing a joyful song to earn their sugary treat.
Those who worship on the Old Calendar in general and Russians in particular have a reputation for strictness and severity in religious practice, and perhaps it is deserved in respect to the Church’s proscribed fasts; they are no no-nonsense about following the letter of the law. But once one gets past the initial shock of seriousness, I prefer to party with a Russian on any day of the calendar year, and that isn’t just because I am married to one. For the serious life engenders a time of celebration unsurpassed by frivolity and merrymaking. What we mistake for mere severity belies a depth of soul that enables something more meaningful: the ability to feast in any weather, under the harshest of conditions, irregardless of the cost because the reveler knows the true reason for the season to the depth of his/her being.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Merry Christmas to all on whatever calendar you happen to celebrate it!