Russian Christmastide, or Svyatki (also spelled Sviatki), is celebrated between Orthodox Christmas (January 7) and the Epiphany (January 19th). Like other traditional celebrations, Russian Christmastide fell out of favor with authorities during the 20th century, but Svyatki has returned, along with other notable ancient festivals that are a part of Russian culture, like Maslenitsa. When you travel in Russia during this two-week period, you may notice the practice of customs associated with Svyatki. For example, Russian Winter Festivals in Moscow may showcase Russian Christmastide and winter traditions.
Sviatki is marked by the observance of special traditions, some which predate Christianity's appearance in Russia. Old Slavic traditions included lighting fires, a practice which made sense in any case due to the fact that Sviatki occurs in the depth of winter.
Svyatki fortune telling may still be done today (though mostly for fun). There were many ways Russians told fortunes in times of old. For example, melting wax then pouring it quickly into cold water or snow was believed to predict events surrounding the fortune teller or those close to her.
The Russian Christmastide tradition of caroling is not unique to Russia – carols are a part of the holiday traditions in other Eastern European countries, too. The koliadki, as they are called, are sung during Svyatki. The carolers, or mummers, may dress up in costume. Evidence of this tradition can be found in Russian literature, even if Svyatki is not mentioned by name. Two well-known examples include Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, in which fortune telling is referenced before “Twelfth Night” and Tolstoy's War and Peace, in which costumed carolers are described during a Christmastime scene.
Epiphany in Russia
January 19, the last day of Svyatki, marks Epiphany. On this day, brave or very devout individuals take a dip in the icy waters of rivers and lakes. Epiphany, marking the baptism of Jesus, is said to imbue water with special powers that will protect those who bathe in it on this day.