Throughout the centuries, Russian villagers have marked the winter solstice with rituals symbolizing journey, death, and rebirth. In many places, villagers carried a boat from house to house. At each house, people attached gold stars to the boat, symbolizing the sun. The decorated boat was then placed in the center of the village, where villagers gathered to dance, sing, and eat. Children wearing masks made of wood and fur represented moshi, spirits who just might have been the ancestors returning.
Although solstice celebrations continued in Russia until the 1920s – and have recently been revived among folklore enthusiasts – many of the solstice's significant rituals were appropriated by the Orthodox Church, which came to Kievan Rus in the tenth century. Rituals marking the sun's rebirth were easily adapted to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. When the Church was itself eclipsed by the aggressively atheist Soviet Union in 1917, many of the time-honored solstice and Christmas customs were again adapted to celebrate a young and explicitly secular holiday: New Year's Day.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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