MIL OSI Translation. Region: Russian Federation –
One of the main religious holidays 100 years ago tried to make only a memory. Moscow historians and clippings from old newspapers tell about how it happened.
Before the revolution, Christmas was the main winter holiday. The whole family was waiting for him: they decorated the Christmas tree, sent postcards, prepared treats and gifts. Many houses had their own specialties, the recipes of which were passed down from generation to generation. For Christmas, it was customary to bake pies and cook meat – the fast was just ending. For dessert, they ate gingerbread cookies, sweets and candied fruits.
The pre-holiday bustle was felt on every Moscow street – fairs were noisy everywhere, shop and shop owners competed in the art of window dressing. But the most beautiful by December 25 (this day celebrated Christmas in pre-revolutionary Russia) were the temples. The festive mood remained until the New Year: Muscovites went to visit, walk and ride down the hills.
At the same time, the New Year itself then remained not a very popular secular holiday. It was celebrated by young people and rich people – sometimes even newspapers wrote about their noisy parties. The rest did not consider the holiday special.
New time of the old holiday
The revolution not only changed the political system and the way of life of the whole country, it literally turned the time around. In 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR adopted a decree on the country’s transition to the Gregorian calendar: after December 31, January 14 immediately began (the difference between the calendars is 13 days).
The clergy did not support the reform, which caused confusion with the date of Christmas. The Russian Orthodox Church, along with some others, celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar (originally it was December 25), but after the country switched to the Gregorian calendar, the date shifted to January 7.
“It was perceived rather painfully. At first, local believers did not really know when to celebrate Christmas for real, ”says the head of the Publication Department of the Archive Fund.
Main Archive Moscow Sergey Voytikov.
Many Muscovites continued to celebrate on December 25th. Moreover, today there are many of those who do the same and believe that the transition to January 7 was absolutely unnecessary. This was told by Irina Karpacheva, head of the department “History of Moscow” Museum of Moscow.
Almost from its first days, the new government launched a struggle with the church as an institution. They changed not only habits and traditions, but also the worldview of people. They began to massively eradicate faith in the second half of the 1920s, declaring a cultural revolution.
“A struggle has begun against all church holidays, the main ones being Christmas and Easter. They immediately came into view. In the late 1920s, a powerful campaign against the church and its ministers had already begun. The holidays were declared bourgeois vestiges left over from the old world, ”says Irina Karpacheva.
Maria gave birth to a Komsomolets
In the early years of Soviet power, Muscovites tried to defend their churches. But the anti-religious campaign was so powerful that it was very difficult to resist. “When the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was cordoned off and the decoration was taken out of it for several weeks, and then they were blown up several times, people stood and were baptized – they could do nothing,” says the historian of the Museum of Moscow.
The printed word came to the forefront of the war against religion – active propaganda of new values began in the newspapers.
“In general, the 19th – early 20th centuries is a civilization of the word. The print media was received with great respect, and naturally any campaign in the press had a serious impact on the society, which, frankly speaking, was not very developed in civil terms, ”says Sergei Voytikov.
The split comes even in families: for example, schoolchildren en masse refuse to attend church, where they are sent by their parents and grandparents. The intensity continued to rise. Initially, Christmas and Easter remained days off, and only in 1929, along with other religious holidays and the New Year, they were declared workers.
“Every worker, every farm laborer, every active collective farmer must fully understand the tasks of turning Christmas days into ordinary working days, demanding from themselves and their comrades every possible increase in labor discipline these days and resolutely suppressing any attempts at religious propaganda and agitation”, – wrote the newspaper “Pravda”.
Then the country was given the task of holding the first five-year plan, and production began to be transferred to the so-called continuous. December 25, 1929 Pravda called the first “Christmas” in continuous conditions: “On this day, the proletarian masses actively broke with one of the strong age-old rituals, opposed socialist construction to religion, turned“ Christmas ”into the day of industrialization and contributed a day’s earnings to the industrialization fund countries”.
Whole anti-religious associations are emerging. One of the most notable is the Union of Atheists with numerous regional branches, including the Moscow one. It consisted of young Komsomol members who staged theatrical parodies of church holidays. Thousands of people took part in such parades: they took to the streets in columns, sang songs, danced and led round dances. The Komsomol “Christmas” was accompanied by ridicule of the clergy and believers, as well as slogans in the spirit of “Religion is opium for the people!” “Man created God in his own image,” their newspapers quoted them. “Mary gave birth to Jesus in 1922, and in 1923 she gave birth to a Komsomol member”.
The Moscow branch of the Union of Atheists was a rather militant organization, says Irina Karpacheva. Its participants not only gathered masquerades and torchlight processions, but also burst into churches and carried everything that came to hand. But mostly young people were less aggressive. “Christmas in Komsomol style is partying and songs to the accompaniment of an accordion in hostels, theatrical performances. The young guys believed a little differently and hoped that they would change the world. Therefore, they staged their Soviet plays, and not The Nutcracker or The Snow Maiden, ”says the historian.
Party behind closed curtains
In fact, Christmas trees began to be banned even before the revolution. In 1916, when the First World War was going on, the Holy Synod declared them an enemy undertaking. And the Bolsheviks simply extended the ban. But Muscovites continued to decorate Christmas trees in their homes – albeit secretly, behind curtained windows. It was rather a tribute to tradition.
“They quietly cut down trees in parks, decorated the house with branches. This, to one degree or another, continued throughout the 20th century. Orthodox people have always remained in Moscow, and despite the fact that most of them were party members, they secretly baptized their children and baptized themselves. Of course, nobody succeeded in eradicating this completely, ”says Irina Karpacheva.
Newspapers described the firs decorated with Christmas candles as a terrible source of fires. And about needles – as about something from which everyone around will certainly sneeze. The house manager or the janitor could notice a burning Christmas tree in the window and report the tenants’ unreliability. In the 1920s and 1930s, they were not imprisoned or shot for this, but the consequences were quite tangible.
“Serious complications could be experienced by employees of large enterprises and government agencies. Religion was not prohibited by law. But believers could be openly worked out by the local party, Komsomol or trade union organization. They could be expelled from the party and the Komsomol for this, and this was serious enough for those who wanted career growth. It was practically impossible to move up the social ladder without such membership, ”says Sergei Voytikov.
Return in a new format
By the mid-1930s, the Bolsheviks decided that measures to combat religion had borne their first fruits: a generation of Soviet people was born – carriers of a new ideology. Then the idea came up to return the winter holiday with everyone’s favorite Christmas tree. This was done by the second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Pavel Postyshev. On December 28, 1935, Pravda published his open letter with a proposal to return the Christmas tree to the children and arrange a New Year’s celebration. The next day a resolution was issued The Central Committee of the Komsomol, which recommended organizing New Year’s trees “cheerful and without boring.”
“In a couple of days, the trees were set up all over the country, and holidays were held for children. In 1936, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a decree on the public celebration of the New Year. And although January 1 remained a working day, it was supposed to become a public holiday for children and one of the elements of creating a happy Soviet childhood, ”said the historian of the Moscow archive.
The New Year never had a religious connotation, so it was taken out of the shadow of Christmas, making it an independent holiday. Initially, they did not attach much importance to it – it was a holiday for children, adults worked as usual.
According to Irina Karpacheva, the Soviet authorities understood that the holiday had not really disappeared. “We decided that we still need to celebrate, but let’s not be Christmas anymore, but New Year – December 31st. And then you can decorate the Christmas tree, ”she says.
Decorated the symbol tree with preserved pre-revolutionary or homemade toys. Gradually, the stores began to appear new tree decorations… Instead of angels, they were already ideologically verified toys: balls with a hammer and sickle, red five-pointed stars, small figurines of commissars made of wire and cotton wool, Budennovists, pioneers, Red Guards, Komsomol members, glass pendants in the form of airships, parachutes and airplanes.
At the same time, Santa Claus appeared at the children’s party, and soon the Snow Maiden joined him. “As a folk character she was known even in pagan mythology, in modern times she was remembered thanks to Ostrovsky’s play and Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera,” noted Sergei Voytikov.
In the fall of 1941, during the most difficult war times for the capital, Stalin ordered the opening of churches.
“Then for the first time in Soviet Moscow, Easter and Christmas were celebrated. The Germans stood near the city, but they brought Christmas trees into it and handed them out to Muscovites in order to somehow cheer them up, ”says Irina Karpacheva.
In the postwar years, Orthodox people continued to celebrate Christmas: they went to festive services and decorated churches.
In 1947, January 1 officially became a day off. The holiday began to acquire traditions, some of which he inherited from Christmas. First, it is a rich festive table: in Soviet times, many dishes appeared that are associated only with the New Year. First of all, these are salads, which were not very popular in Russia before the revolution. Since the 1920s, red caviar began to appear on the tables – a delicacy then became very cheap, anyone could afford it. Taking red and black caviar daily could well have been prescribed by a doctor as a remedy against anemia…
According to the historian, one of the main Christmas traditions was presents… Year after year they entered the life of the Soviet people. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Christmas returned as a public holiday and became a day off again. And in recent years, traditional Christmas markets have begun to return to the city streets – a bright phenomenon of Russian pre-revolutionary culture.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.