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Colours of the Wind

A Russian Christmas

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Friday, 29 March 2013 | Views [359]

Following a group of Russians we slipped into the hall of a church, and eventually into mass. As we entered a shrivelled but smiley old woman conveyed that she wanted to tie aprons around our waists. I was scolded by some man for holding a camera and then we shuffled into a space in the crowd. The interior  was mangificent. Scented candles burned, the walls depicted saints and biblical scenes all painted in pastels and gold. Huge golden chandeliers hung from high spire ceilings, and a bishop chanted melodically. Every now and then a chorus of women would pipe up angelically. It was so serene and reverenced. And filled. Hundreds of Russians stood crossing themselves and bowing at certain words or phrases, women stood with their eyes closed, and lips moving. A child lit a candle and prayed.

When we got back to the bus a friendly woman offered “Ruskee chie”, like I haven’t already tasted Russian black-tea about six hundred times. It was very kind though, and very appreciated.

The bus jolted down the street and around a bend, parking on top of our destination: a frozen lake. We followed Darina and a couple of other women into this little wooden hut, where we hastily changed into pyjamas, taking it in turns to climb down the icy stairs and ‘dip three times’. Having spent summers in the Irish Sea, I didn’t find the water exceptionally freezing, the frozen steps were worse. It was a shock submerging yourself so quickly but not unbearable. In the depths of the Russian Winter the water should be warmer then the sub zero environmental temperatures, and perhaps this is why Russians can stand to contemplate such a shock to the nerves. It is wonderfully refreshing to feel your body warm up again, under the layers and layers you hide inside. Apart from Darina, her ‘siberian mother’, Magda and I, maybe only two other women took the plunge. We left triumphant, and ‘strong’- with a story to tell our grandchildren. It was minus twenty degrees.

On the journey home food was shared around the bus, and a steel mug of vodka passed between seats. The warmth burning down my throat into my belly was such a relief, as I sat with my hood up, gloves on and zipped up; snug in the cold. The back seat passengers, having been relatively quiet on the way up were drunk. Someone produced a balalaika and they sung passionately from 2am until we arrived back in Nizhny, dramatic wailing interspersed with triumphant cries of ‘Opa!’.

Tags: christmas traditions, frozen lake, russian orthodox christmas

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