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Russians Celebrate Orthodox Christmas - 2002-01-06

For most of the world, the year-end holidays are a memory, as people resume their normal work routines. Not so in Russia, where Orthodox Christmas Eve is being observed. There is even a second New Year's celebration to come, in just more than a week.

The New Year may be a week old, but in Russia Christmas has just arrived - Orthodox Christmas, that is. Russia celebrates Christmas now because of a decision by the Orthodox Church hierarchy several centuries ago to stick to the old Julian calendar, even as Roman Catholics and Protestants adopted the Gregorian calendar.

Across the country, church services are held late into the night to greet Christmas Day on January 7. Gift-giving is not part of the Russian Christmas tradition. That takes place on New Year's Eve, by far the country's most important holiday of the season. But even that day was long out of sync with the rest of the world, given that Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar for secular holidays only in 1918.

So for those who still have not had enough merry-making after Christmas, there is "Old New Year" - which, according to the old calendar, falls on the night of January 13-14. That is when many Russians raise their champagne or vodka glasses for yet another toast at midnight.

But the country is not immune to outside influences. Although December 25th is officially a normal working day, many Russians celebrate then as well. Western-style marketing has helped promote the idea that the exchange of gifts can happen even before New Year's, traditionally the time for family gatherings.

There are some in Russia who think the country should finally align its holidays with the rest of the world. But a recent opinion poll found that only one in three Russians think Christmas should be celebrated in December. Switching dates would involve more than just a realignment of holidays, as school vacations have always lasted from the end of December until mid-January.

Most Russian also say they prefer to continue doing things their way, despite the increased westernization of the country since the fall of the Soviet Union 10 years ago.