Christmas in Belarus

In Belarus the time over Christmas and New Year is called 'Kaliady' (this means calendar in Latin and the name comes from the old pre-Christian/pagan winter solstice celebrations). Kaliady starts and ends with two Christmases and has the New Year celebrations in the middle! It starts on December 25th when Catholics and Protestants in Belarus celebrate Christmas; the big New Year's Eve celebrations are in the middle; and it ends on January 7th when Christmas is celebrated in the Orthodox church (most people in Belarus celebrate Christmas using the Orthodox date).

During the time that Belarus was part of the Soviet Union, Kaliady and Christmas was not celebrated very much, if at all. New Year was made into the important celebration. But now Christmas celebrations are coming back, although New Year is still the bigger holiday.

Kaliady is also the name for an old pre-soviet tradition where people would dress up and go around their neighbors singing songs - like carol singing. This is still done in some rural villages but isn't common anymore.

Many of the 'traditions' that most people associate with Christmas are now linked to the New Year celebrations. There are New Year Trees (sometimes called holiday trees), and gifts are often put under the tree and are exchanged/opened on New Year's Eve.

Father Frost and Snegurochka
Father Frost and Snegurochka [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

New Year is also when 'Father Frost' (known in Belarus as Dzied Maroz/Ded Moroz or Дзед Мароз) brings presents to children. He is often accompanied by his Granddaughter (Snegurochka). Some children might also have a visit from Sviaty Mikalaj (Святы Мікалай) - St Nicholas.

New Year and Christmas lights are put in towns and cities throughout Belarus.

It's traditional to have three important meals during Kaliady, which are known as 'Kućcia' (or 'Kutia' or 'Kutsia') meals; this is what Orthodox Christmas Eve is called and is also the name of a porridge which is eaten at the Christmas Eve meal. The first meal is known as the 'fasting' or 'Lent' Kućcia and the last meal is the 'Hungry' Kućcia. They are meant to be very simple with no meat or fat in them. There are normally 12 dishes at the Orthodox Christmas Eve Kućcia to represent Jesus's 12 disciples. As well as Kućcia porridge the other dishes will items like pancakes, fish and mushrooms; as well as kisel (a dessert made of oatmeal fruit, berries and potato starch sometimes served with milk). Sometimes straw is put under the tablecloth to help people remember that Jesus was placed in a manger as a baby (this is also done in neighbouring countries like Poland and Russia).

The middle Kućcia, eaten on New Year's Eve and called the 'great' Kućcia, is a big feast. Some people will only have the main Kućcia on New Year's Eve! One vital dish is 'Olivje' or 'Olivier' salad; it made from potatoes, eggs, green peas, pickles, mayonnaise and ham. Other salads like 'Shuba' (diced pickled herring with layers of grated vegetables, chopped onions and mayonnaise) are also popular. Tinned peas are very important and feature in many of the great Kućcia dishes! Mandarin oranges are also normally eaten during New Year's Eve.

There are several 'traditional' film shown on TV on New Year's Eve. One of these films is The Irony of Fate (Іронія лёсу or S Legkim Parom), which is also sometimes called 'Enjoy your Bath' or 'With a Light Steam'. It was made in 1975 during the Soviet era and was always shown on Soviet TV on New Year's Eve. It's a romantic comedy about a man who drinks too much and gets very lost after having a sauna with some of his friends. The Irony of Fate is also shown on Russian TV on New Year's Eve.

At about 11.50pm, there is a short speech by the Belarusian President shown on the TV before the New Year arrives at 12am with lots of fireworks! (Some people, who can also get Russian TV, might watch the New Year arrive in Moscow at 11pm Belarus time as Moscow is in a different time zone.)

Catholic and Protestant Christians might go to a Midnight Mass service on the 24th December and/or a Christmas Day service on the 25th December. For Orthodox Christians the main Christmas service normally starts at midnight on the 6th/7th January following the hungry Kućcia and the night time service can last for several hours! Then Christmas Day, on the 7th January, is a public holiday where people visit family and friends.

In Belarusian, Merry Christmas is 'Z Kaljadami' (З Калядамі) and Happy New Year is 'Z Novym godam' (З Новым годам).