среда, 6 января 2010 г.

CHRISTMAS IN OLD STYLE


For a whole half a year programs of our series have been plunging you into the atmosphere of the Russian musical 18th century – a century rich in luxurious treasures. Now, why don’t we venture yet again, without disrupting our chronology, into the same remarkable, tantalizing century of Russian history, yet this time in connection with Christmas and the New Year? So that we can enjoy something of an ‘old-style’ seasonal holiday…

You might not know that in our country they started celebrating the New Year on the night of December 31st only in the 18th century! Before that, all Russian New Year festivities were held in the month of September!

I’m sure you are correctly suspecting that a quite specific historic character had a hand in bringing about these changes… Am I right? You possibly thought of our celebrated Czar Peter I? Well, that’s quite correct! Who else? There was even a moment when Russians, thanks to his efforts, were obliged to celebrate New Year twice – first on September 1st 1699 everyone had a grand old time marking the all-time favorite holiday… And then the peremptory Russian monarch came out with a decree saying that “as a sign of great undertaking and to mark the new century all people should from then on mark the New Year on January 1st. Fir tree, pine and juniper branches and trees be used to decorate houses and gateways along main streets; salvos be fired from small canons and rifles, projectiles launched, and other lights lit as many as possible…”

Our ubiquitous ruler stirred quite a reaction with his decree… Even the brightly decorated trees in our homes today all date to his time… As do the fireworks… Although, according to descriptions of his contemporaries, nothing could quite rival the splendor of fireworks of the 18th century. They were fashionable all over Europe. However, Russia, as is known, at all times preferred to go to extremes in everything: if they were to be held at the Czar’s court, then throughout the night, so that the whole town could see, made up of dozens of thousands of lights, featuring thousands of musicians, dancers, and multi-thousand choruses… Such was the grand Russian touch!

However, New Year and Christmas celebrations in Russia of the 18th century not only spelled popular all across Europe fireworks, balls, wigs, crinolines… Russia remained Russia… Which meant that at this particular time of year everyone – from commoner to gentry – partook of the traditional Christmas entertainments, playing host to riotous bunches of young folk and children with their noisy and jolly Carols and jokes, visiting the multi-colored fairs, enjoying artless performances of the circus actors, dances of the trained bears or rolling with laughter at street puppet performances, where the principal character was always the great Russian favorite — the hawk-nosed, shrill-voiced Petrushka…



And here is another amusement, much loved by Russians at Christmas: the Vertep performances. They were always anxiously expected: after all, they were given but once a year – only during the Christmas week. These were enchanting in their simplicity folk theatres, which focused on exclusively Bible themes…Some of these were puppet theatres, while others featured actors. Curiously, quite often these took place in Orthodox Churches! It would seem a most unlikely venue, since the Orthodox Church was and still is remarkably severe and set in its canons, restrictions… However, at Christmas, people wearing festive garb would show up, actors in costumes came into the center of the church – depicting anyone from King Herod to …the devil himself! They amused the public with most cutting dialogue! These Vertep performances would take place in Orthodox Churches all across Russia!

Christmas and New Year in Russia always signified incredibly beautiful church services… The principal one of these, then, in the 18th century, too, took place at the Assumption cathedral of the Kremlin. After the service, the Czar would come out onto the Sobornaya, or Cathedral square and any one of the folks gathered here could approach him. And each person could expect a kind word; anyone in need could hope for relief…

Sources:The Voice of Russia,www.belarus.by

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