On January 6th, many Orthodox countries including Russia will celebrate Christmas Eve — also known as “Sochelnik”. While the date of Russian Christmas has always been on January 7 many traditions have changed over the past 200 years. In this post, we explore a number of folkloric rituals, and illuminate the differences between Russian Orthodox and Western Christmas customs.
What is “Sochelnik”?
Sochelnik comes from the Russian word “sochivo” – literally a liquid made from soaking wheat grains, and used instead of butter since no animal products are allowed to be consumed during the holiday. A simple porridge dish made with sochivo is known as “kutya.” The porridge is prepared with honey, poppy seeds, nuts and dried fruits – symbolizing immortality, success and happiness. Eating the grain porridge on Christmas Eve is also an homage to Daniel’s Fast on his journey to discovering God. (See a simple recipe for authentic sochivo at the end of this post). According to Orthodox tradition, on the eve before Christmas it is customary to fast until the first start is visible in the night sky.