- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

MOSCOW As the rest of the world takes down the mistletoe, clears out the empty bottles and resumes a normal working routine, Russians are getting down to a further bout of Christmas and New Year festivities.
A decision by the Russian Orthodox Church some four centuries ago to stick to the old Julian calendar while their Catholic and Protestant counterparts switched to the Gregorian means that for many in Russia the merry-making is only now getting into its stride.
Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II had a busy day yesterday with services throughout the day ahead of the official celebration of Christmas today.
Morning and afternoon services in Moscow's new Christ the Savior Cathedral will be followed by the midnight service, which begins at 10 p.m. and traditionally lasts well into the small hours of Christmas morning.
The city's Metro has laid on special trains to allow worshippers to return home late.
The midnight liturgy will be televised in full on national television, and services will take place in the vast majority of the country's 14,000 Russian Orthodox churches.
Even in the ruined Chechen capital, Grozny, where the local Orthodox church has long been reduced to a bullet-spattered shell, pensioner Natalya Filicheva, standing in for a visiting priest from the nearby Stavropol region who has fallen ill, intended to light her last three remaining candles and read from a psalter in the headlights of Russian army vehicles.
Although some of the wealthier "new Russians" usually head early for the Mediterranean sun, the vast majority of Russians regard Dec. 25 as just another working day and see Jan. 1 adopted as the start of the calendar year as recently as 1918 as the signal for the festivities to begin.
The evening of Dec. 31 is the traditional date for family reunions and present-giving, with Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) standing in for Father Christmas and his elves and reindeer.
However, the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, which has only been a public holiday since the collapse of communism a decade ago, now runs a close second.
Since there are no seats in Orthodox churches, rather than face an all-night vigil standing in a crammed church, many believers light and place their candle the day before and invite family and friends round for a traditional meal in the evening.
Patriarch Alexei II will be back in action for a vespers service on Christmas afternoon, while for many Russians, particularly in the provinces, Christmas Day is to be spent outdoors whatever the weather, offering gifts of sweets and cakes to neighbors, or strolling, sleighing or engaging in snowball fights.
But it's still not time to throw out the fir tree.
A week later, on the night of Jan. 13-14, comes the Old New Year, another Julian left-over providing a pretext for further feasting, dancing and imbibing.

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