January 01, 1997

The Baptism of the Lord

The day that Western Christians celebrate as ‘Twelfth Night,’ or Epiphany, becomes in Russian Kreshcheniye Gospodnye, the ‘Baptism of the Lord.’ In the books of the Apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ came to John the Baptist on the River Jordan and asked him to baptize him. During the baptism, John saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove which descended on Jesus, and heard the voice of God saying: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Thus man saw the three hypostases of God. This is why the Baptism is also called the feast of Bogoyavleniye (Epiphany), meaning ‘the appearance of God.’

Kreshcheniye also had a popular name — vodokreshchi. This is an echo of a pagan feast dedicated to the sun, which cleanses by water and fire. Having been combined with this pagan holiday, which lasted for twelve winter days, Christmas and Epiphany came to be perceived by people as a 12-day feast in honor of the appearance of the Man-God on earth. This 12-day cycle is called svyatki or svyatiye vechera (holy evenings, i.e. yuletide).

These days were some of the most joyous, carefree and mischievous in the old Russian year. People would play games, sing songs, dance, and go to endless parties and sumptuous feasts, while young people would visit homes and perform carols, recitals and tongue-twisters, for which they got presents and tasty morsels from their hosts.

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