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Christmas Eve Meal
Christmas Eve Meal
Christmas Eve and the night of Christmas are a special time. On these bright festive days, it is traditional for the whole family to gather around one big table to celebrate the great feast of Christmas.
In collaboration with the historical reconstruction project TASTE OF HISTORY we prepared for you 10 recipes for traditional dishes of the holiday table.
TASTE OF HISTORY is a union of two historians and reconstructors, cooks, friends and colleagues: Olga Mamaeva and Sofia Vdovicheva. The culinary project exists since 2013. At first it was called a Medieval Cuisine Cookbook and covered only the Middle Ages. Now the time frame of the project is wider: from antiquity to the October Revolution in Russia.
In order to get the most complete and authentic recipes, the authors study rare cookbooks, translate recipes from foreign old books, and participate in festivals.
For cooking, they often use not a modern oven, but a stove or a fire. They also try to find authentic dishes from the times of the recipe’s invention, and cook while wearing historical costumes.
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is the last day of the 40 days of Christmas (or Filippov) Lent, the day before Christmas. According to the Gregorian calendar adopted in Russia, Christmas Eve is celebrated on January 6.
What was eaten on Christmas Eve?
  • The evening meal on this day had a symbolic meaning and was strictly regulated. The church ascribed a strict fast to the evening service, the Vespers. According to the Church Statutes, the familiar expression "no food before the first star" meant that everyone had to be at the Liturgy and then, when it got dark, could eat their food. Today the service of Christmas Eve is celebrated in the morning of January 6 (Vespers is combined with Liturgy). At the end of the service, a candle symbolizing the Christmas star is carried to the center of the church. Therefore, the custom of not eating food on Christmas Eve until evening is simply a pious tradition.

  • The Russians call Christmas Eve Sochelnik. This name may have come from the Lenten scones — sochens. Some historians also see parallels with the name of the obligatory meal on Christmas Eve — sochivo (kutya). The meal always began with this porridge.

  • The table was covered with a white tablecloth, served with the best tableware, and decorated with fir branches, candles, and ribbons. A composition of fir branches, candles and other Christmas attributes, decorated with gilded cones and nuts was placed in the center of the table. A lovingly decorated Christmas tree was placed in the corner or center of the room, and the gifts were placed under it for everyone who attended. Often, the tree was decorated with edible toys for the youngest participants of the holiday: marzipan figures, painted gingerbread, and "funtiks" — little bags with edible sweet stuffing.
What was eaten on Christmas Eve?
  • The evening meal on this day had a symbolic meaning and was strictly regulated. The church ascribed a strict fast to the evening service, the Vespers. According to the Church Statutes, the familiar expression "no food before the first star" meant that everyone had to be at the Liturgy and then, when it got dark, could eat their food. Today the service of Christmas Eve is celebrated in the morning of January 6 (Vespers is combined with Liturgy). At the end of the service, a candle symbolizing the Christmas star is carried to the center of the church. Therefore, the custom of not eating food on Christmas Eve until evening is simply a pious tradition.

  • The Russians call Christmas Eve Sochelnik. This name may have come from the Lenten scones — sochens. Some historians also see parallels with the name of the obligatory meal on Christmas Eve — sochivo (kutya). The meal always began with this porridge.

  • The table was covered with a white tablecloth, served with the best tableware, and decorated with fir branches, candles, and ribbons. A composition of fir branches, candles and other Christmas attributes, decorated with gilded cones and nuts was placed in the center of the table. A lovingly decorated Christmas tree was placed in the corner or center of the room, and the gifts were placed under it for everyone who attended. Often, the tree was decorated with edible toys for the youngest participants of the holiday: marzipan figures, painted gingerbread, and "funtiks" — little bags with edible sweet stuffing.
From Christmas to Baptism
Christmas comes when the Christmas Day service begins. The service is the holiday itself. After the divine service people go home and have not fasting, but a usual holiday meal.
People return to their homes after the service and can eat unleavened feast foods.
Usually after the service people ate a simple meal: eggs, curd, some fish. The main meal happened afterwards, when the whole family and guests gathered around the table. Goose and meat dishes were welcomed on the table.
Traditional Christmas Dishes
Kozuli

On Christmas Eve, the whole family sat down at the table. Both children and adults made cows from unflavored dough, kneaded with milk. Milk, wheat flour, and salt were the only ingredients. Later the recipe became more complicated, spices and sugar were added to the dough. Already formed gingerbreads were taken out into the cold yard all night, and on Christmas morning they were sent into the oven. In memory of the holiday, a few masterfully made figures were kept in houses for the whole year.

For Christmas in Russia they baked kozuli, animal-shaped gingerbread. They were Christmas tree decorations, treats and home talismans.
In northern villages, kozuli were either cut out of rolled dough with a special mold (which was cherished and passed on as a legacy), or molded like clay toys. Baked gingerbreads were covered with white sugar or pink glaze, which was made with cranberry or lingonberry juice.
Ingredients:
  • sugar — 5 cups,
  • water — 1 cup,
  • butter — 150 g,
  • eggs — 3 pcs,
  • flour — 0.5 kg,
  • cinnamon — 1 tbsp,
  • cloves,
  • soda.
Cooking:
Burn one cup of sugar, dissolve in a glass of hot water. Add another 2 cups of sugar (until completely dissolved), 150 g of butter, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, cloves and soda, 1 egg and 2 yolks. Pour about 0.5 kg of flour, knead the dough so that it does not stick to your hands. Keep the dough in a saucepan and cellophane in a cool place for a week. After that, add another 0.5 kg of sugar and roll the dough out to 0.5 cm thickness. Cut out the rolled dough in shapes of tin or thick paper and put it on a baking tray, greased with butter. Grease the gingerbreads with beaten egg and water in a ratio of 1:1 and put in the oven. Bake for 5−7 minutes. Let the gingerbreads dry, then remove them from the baking tray and decorate with glaze.
Vzvar
The second obligatory dish at the Christmas table. Traditionally, vzvar was made from dried fruits, but honey was added instead of sugar. The most popular and widespread vzvar was apple one with the addition of dried or soaked cranberries, lingonberries or raspberries. Mint, oregano, currant leaf, thyme and other aromatic herbs were often added to the drink. You do not need to boil vzvar: just pour fruits with boiling water and leave them to infuse. Thermos is perfect for this purpose. Often, sochivo is diluted with vzvar and eaten as a liquid sweet porridge.
Cold Pork with Horseradish
The recipe from Ekaterina Avdeeva "The Handbook of the Russian Experienced Household"is simple: boil pork in salted water with onions and aromatic herbs — thyme and dill.
Then cut it into pieces and pour horseradish with sour cream. Serve cold.
Sbiten
Ingredients:
  • water — 0.5 liters,
  • honey — 150 g,
  • sugar — 150 g,
  • cinnamon — 1 tsp,
  • coriander — 1 tsp,
  • cloves — 10 pcs or 1 tsp,
  • ginger — 1 tsp,
  • bay leave — 3 pcs.
Sbiten (zbiten) is an old East Slavic drink made of water, honey and spices, which often included therapeutic herbal gatherings. Hot sbiten has warming and anti-inflammatory effects. Cold sbiten was no less popular when quenching thirst on a hot day.
Cooking:
Boil water, add honey, sugar and all the spices. Boil for about 20 minutes. Remove the foam as it boils. Drink it hot or cold at your discretion.
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