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Christmas Customs in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe's Traditional Christmas Celebrations

By

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

iStockphoto/oleg66
Though Eastern Europe has a long tradition of Christmas customs – or pagan customs related to winter holidays – it hasn't always been possible for people living in the countries of Eastern Europe to celebrate this time of year. The restrictive policies upheld during the years of Communist rule no longer stifle religious observance of Christmas or even secular displays in recognition of the winter holidays. Today, Christmas markets draw visitors from all over the world, calendars of events provide rich cultural entertainment, the faithful attend Christmas masses, Santa Claus works overtime, and public Christmas trees light up historic squares. Celebration of Christmas in Eastern Europe is both both public and private, and more travelers every year are tempted to visit the region during this culturally fascinating season.

View Photos of Christmas in Eastern Europe

History of Christmas Customs in Eastern Europe

Most Christmas customs in Eastern Europe can be traced back to pagan celebrations. For example, the celebration of Christmas in the Baltic nations is closely associated with the winter solstice. When Christianity came to be adopted by populations of those living in the region now designated as Eastern Europe, some pagan customs were absorbed and assimilated. Before religious observance became taboo during the 20th century, Christian Churches – both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church – founded strong traditions to mark Christmas. Under oppressive regimes, Christmas customs had to be practiced privately or in secret, or they were secularized to such an extent that they hardly resemble their original form. For an example of the last, we can look to the Ded Moroz figure, who visits Russian children on New Year's Eve rather than on St. Nicholas Day or on Christmas Eve as you might expect. In some countries in Eastern Europe, New Year's Eve celebrations are still larger and given greater significance than are Christmas celebrations.

Today's Christmas Customs

Revival of old customs, more enthusiastic celebration of existing customs, and the creation of new customs is a part of Christmas in the countries in Eastern Europe. Each country recognizes Christmas a little differently, and it's worthwhile to compare and contrast how Eastern Europe's Christmas customs vary throughout the region. You can find more information about the Christmas traditions of the countries Eastern Europe below:
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