Traditions: Christmas trees (Yolka) were banned by the Communist regime and were replaced by "New Year's" trees. Yolka comes from the word, which refers to a fir tree. Peter the Great, after he visited Europe during the 1700's, introduced the custom of decorating Christmas trees. Legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th ) is observed.
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on January 6, Christmas Eve. The church in Russia still uses the old Julian calendar; therefore their Christmas celebration is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that western churches use.
On Christmas Eve a traditional meal called: "The Holy Supper" is served. Dinner begins when the first evening star in appears in the sky. The family gathers around the table to Honor the coming Christ Child. A white tablecloth, symbolic of Christ's Swaddling clothes covers the Table. Hay is brought forth as a reminder of the poverty of the cave where Jesus was born. A tall white candle is placed in the center of the table, symbolic of Christ "the Light of the World." A large round loaf of Lenten bread (pagach)," symbolic of Christ the Bread of Life, is placed next to the candle.
The legend of Grandfather Frost (D'yed Moroz), the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, arose in the major cities. It was said that Grandfather Frost lived deep in the woods of Russia and came to town in a sleigh. Grandfather Frost had a reputation for bringing gifts to good children and forgetting those who were naughty. He could be both jolly and cold hearted. During the Christmas season, he would roam the streets, handing out toys to well-behaved children-and overlooking those who behaved badly.
Grandfather Frost dressed in red robes trimmed in white fur, his beard was snow-white and bushy, and long. Sometimes his outfit made him more like a wizard than the Santa Claus known in Europe put gifts under the Christmas tree did. However, he did not come down the chimney (the houses in Russian cities had no fireplaces). He did make house calls-delivering toys and gifts door-to-door. Some children opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, but others were told that Grandfather Frost wouldn't come until they were fast asleep, and they would find their gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.