The Best Russian Books in English

Forget War and Peace: this blog offers reviews of fun and interesting Russian books in English, links to their Amazon pages, interviews with new and upcoming Russian authors, with the emphasis on Russian genre fiction: LitRPG, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, romance, mystery and other popular reads.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve Meal: Traditions and Recipes

Need food and meal ideas for a traditional Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve? Here are a few tips and recipes to celebrate Christmas the Russian style.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Russian Christmas Traditions: Myths, Mistakes and Misconceptions

Plan to organize a traditional Russian Christmas? From Na Zdorovie to Babushka, here's a list of most common mistakes and things Russians NEVER do or say.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Babushka and the Three Wise Men? Story, yes. Russian, no.

As Christmas gradually creeps up upon us, I feel I need to put this "Russian" Babushka legend straight.

There is NO Russian Christmas figure called Babushka. There is NO legend about her in Russia, period. She does NOT bring gifts to Russian kids, it's Father Frost who does. Babushka and the Three Wise Men is just an adorable literary tale by an English-language author, and it has nothing to do with Russian folklore whatsoever.

I came across this supposedly "Russian" legend about a gift-bringing Babushka a couple of years ago on some English-language Christmas site. I raised my eyebrows, chuckled -- yeah yeah, how stupid can one be! -- and forgot about it. It rang a few bells though: didn't I remember something similar from Italian folklore?

Imagine my amusement as I stumbled upon the following the other day:

My Russian teacher gave us the tale of 'Babushka and the Three Wise Men' last December. It is called a Russian legend about a traditional Christmas figure -  'Babushka' (means grandmother).

Oh. My. God.

There is NO such Christmas figure in Russia, period. Never has been.

What could be, though, is a case of cross-cultural confusion. This "Babushka" story sounds suspiciously similar to the Italian tale of La Befana: an elderly lady who indeed ignored the Three Kings' invitation to bring gifts to Baby Jesus and now travels around the world giving gifts to kids hoping to find the Christ child...

It's entirely possible that some long-forgotten 19th-century Russian children's book retold the Italian legend calling the old Befana "babushka" ("Grandma", or "old lady"). It's also possible that some 19th or early 20th century Russian immigrants brought some copies of the book into the USA and later, having forgotten their own culture and folklore, sincerely mistook the Italian legend for a Russian one. They could indeed start telling it to their second-generation immigrant kids as a "Russian" bedside story, just as Christmas Internet sites claim today.

That's how Americans ended up with a "Russian Christmas legend" that only exists in America. What breaks my heart is that a whole generation of English-speaking kids (and their teachers) will grow up thinking that this "traditional Russian Christmas figure" really exists. Well, it doesn't.

The story's lovely, tho'. Shame it's not Russian. We can always use a good Christmas tale.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to Organize and Celebrate a Traditional Russian Christmas

Forget festive Christmas trees and the gift-bringing Father Christmas in his sleigh: the Russian Christmas is a no-frills pious religious holiday.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Traditional Russian Christmas and New Year Gifts for Men

How do we choose and buy original Christmas and New Year gifts for men, the ones they will actually like and appreciate? This season, try to go Russian and enjoy the choice of inexpensive but classy gift ideas worthy of the Czar's Christmas celebration.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Russian Antique Christmas Tree Ornaments and Vintage Decorations

Until the mid-1840, the Russians didn't have Christmas decorations. Christmas trees were considered a German tradition and could only be seen in foreign quarters as well as in Czars' palaces because, since the 1700s, many Russian monarchs had German roots.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Russian Christmas for Kids: Party Ideas and Gift Tips

Christmas traditions are quite young in Russia, especially where children's parties are concerned. Until mid-1840, Christmas remained a strictly religious holiday and children received no special treatment: no gifts, no Santa Claus or a Christmas tree, just a many hours-long church service and a hearty meal to mark the end of the forty-days Christmas fast, followed by games like tobogganing and snowballs fights.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Russian Christmas Party for Kids: Father Frost vs. Santa Claus

Learn how to organize a Russian Christmas for kids: the difference in appearance between Santa Claus and Russian Father Christmas, or Ded Moroz.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

St Nicholas in Russia: He is no Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is the most revered saint in the Russian Orthodox Christian tradition. Together with St George, he is the patron saint of Russia.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fine Art Russian Christmas Cards: Season's Greetings from Russia

The first Russian Christmas cards were printed in 1898: ten miniature copies of famous Russian watercolors published by the community of St Eugenia in order to raise funds for the Russian Red Cross.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Christmas Holiday Travel Season: Karelia, Russia

Karelia is an area in the North of Europe in the neighborhood of Europe's two largest lakes: Lake Ladoga and Lake Onego (Onega). It was originally inhabited by fishing and hunting Finno-Ugric tribes who settled in Karelia circa 7000 BC as the planet emerged from the last ice age. By 1000 BC, Karelian people knew ferrous metallurgy, as well as agriculture and livestock rearing.

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