International students and their Christmas traditions: Russia, Bosnia, Estonia, Ukraine

Groningen is filled with students from all over the world, each with their own Christmas traditions. In this special holiday series, we take you on a tour around the world: international students describe their Christmas traditions during the holidays. This time we explore Russia, Bosnia, Estonia and Ukraine.

International Communication student Maria Lazareva from Moscow doesn’t celebrate Christmas. ‘For us it’s mainly about New Years Eve.’ Just like many other countries, Russian traditions revolve around food. ‘Usually we are cooking typical meals for New Year’s and we always drink champagne.’

Bosnia and Hercegovina
Emina, a student from Bosnia, tells us that just like in Russia, they don’t really celebrate Christmas. But there are some other traditions during December: ‘On the roads there are lights in the shape of snowflakes. People go ice skating a lot and there they eat corn, pancakes and drink hot chocolate, tea or coffee.’ New Years’ Eve is also celebrated. ‘Everyone is excited about celebrating the new year. A lot of people go to the mountains and go sledding or skiing. Because it’s the start of the winter break, a lot of family members gather. Friends have a lot of sleepovers and movie nights, relaxing and not worrying about school.’

Estonian student Iris Sargla shares the traditions of her country. ‘Even though Estonia is one of the least religious countries in Europe, most families go to church during Christmas.’ But Iris feels Christmas is about more than that. ‘In my opinion, it is not so much about religion, but about the feeling of Christmas and spending quality time with your family’. Another tradition has to do with… again… food. ‘Traditional Estonian Christmas food is Sauerkraut, potatoes and black pudding made of animal blood. It is hundred percent guaranteed that you can find this on every Estonian families’ Christmas menu.’

Ukranian student Jacqueline Pushchin celebrates Christmas a little later than people in most countries. ‘In Ukraine, Christmas is often celebrated on 7 January, which marks the birth of Jesus based on the Julian calendar. However, since that tradition has only been revived after the break of the Soviet Union, it is also common for many families to celebrate it on 31 December.’ So why this day? ‘On 31 December, Ded Moroz, which means ‘Father Frost’, with his granddaughter, Snegurothschka, visits all children and gives them gifts in exchange for dances, recitals of poems or any other type of entertainment the children come up with. It is usually followed by a lot of dancing and celebrating, before Ded Moroz and Snegurotschka continue their travels to the next family.’ And what do adults do? ‘They have the tradition to go to a traditional Russian sauna called Banja, set up the Christmas tree or bring out the good vodka. Some typical Ukrainian New Year’s dishes include olivje, a potato salad, and Napoleon, which is a very delicious cake made out of layers of pudding and puff pastry.’

Many adults also have the tradition to go to a traditional Russian sauna called ‘Banja’

Different families celebrate Christmas differently. Anna Ivanova, another Ukrainian student at Hanze, celebrates Christmas Eve. ‘We call it Sviatyi Vechir, which means Holy evening. This evening is filled with numerous customs and rituals. The customs include decorating the house and dinner table with special attributes such as having twelve dishes on the table. The main one is Kutya: each family member has to eat a spoon of it. It’s also common to have your relatives drop by and bring holy supper for the godparents in the house, while singing koliadky (Christmas Carols, ed.)’

Teodor Nedyalkov and Aila Kubat