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The Tumultuous History of Russian Christmas Trees

3. January 2013 by Dasha 0 Comments

Though Christmas has come and gone in the West, festivities are just getting started in Eastern Europe. Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7th, which means many ladies are still buying gifts, attending parties, and enjoying the beauty of holiday trees. However, Christmas trees weren’t always a part of Russian culture. In fact, they were banned for 20 years. Here’s a brief history of holiday trees in Mother Russia.

The First Christmas Trees in Russia

The first Christmas trees appeared in Russia in 1817, thanks to Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, a native of Prussia. The Tsarina missed the holiday trees of her youth, so she began decorating small firs at the Winter Palace to celebrate the Christmas season. The court embraced the new tradition, and large holiday trees soon appeared throughout St. Petersburg. The custom quickly spread throughout Russia, and Christmas trees were the norm for the next hundred years.

The Christmas Tree Ban

Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks banned Christmas trees, claiming the practice was a bourgeois tradition that needed to be stamped out. The decree made it a crime to sell trees or chop down firs, and 20 years passed with no festive trees or holiday decorations. However, Joseph Stalin revived the tradition in 1937, and Christmas trees have adorned Russian homes ever since.

The Revival of Christmas Trees

It’s not clear why Stalin brought Christmas trees back, though some think Mikhail Bulgakov’s play, The Day of the Turbines, had something to do with it. The play, which Stalin saw more than 15 times, featured an elaborately-decorated tree which may have moved the leader to remove the ban and install the first Soviet tree in 1937. As they did a hundred years earlier, Russian citizens took their cue from country leaders and brought festive trees to their cities and homes.

Today, Russia and many other parts of the Former Soviet Union erect dazzling trees to mark the holiday season. Tree lighting ceremonies and unique Russian ornaments are all part of the excitement. If you’re chatting with a lady from HRB this week, be sure to ask about her Christmas tree traditions!


Russia & India Report