Winter and Christmas holidays in St. Petersburg

The Christmas period and winter in general, although the cold is very cold, represents one of the special times to visit St. Petersburg. There won't be that multitude of tourists typical of the summer months or, even worse, the White Nights; therefore we recommend visiting the northern city in this period to those who do not like confusion and want to enjoy a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
Natale a San Pietroburgo
Christmas in St. Petersburg

In the winter months the city of St. Petersburg is particularly quiet, quite the opposite of the White Nights period. During the Christmas period, from the end of December to the tenth of January, the inhabitants enjoy the winter holidays.

Walking through the streets, adequately dressed so as not to suffer from the cold, you can admire St. Petersburg in winter when ice covers the waterways and snow accumulates. The city looks different and absolutely charming under a thick blanket of snow, showing its new beauty. The Neva River and the canals of St. Petersburg are completely frozen. It is possible to cross the frozen Neva from the Hermitage to the St. Peter and Paul Fortress.

In the middle of the winter period, the New Year holidays (New Year, according to Russian tradition) and Orthodox Christmas are observed. The New Year for Russians is a big holiday and is celebrated on the same day as all over the world, namely December 31st! Orthodox Christmas (Rozhdestvo) takes place in Russia on January 7 according to Orthodox traditions. Russians observe Christmas exactly thirteen days after Christian Christmas (December 25) in accordance with the old Julian calendar, still recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The streets of St. Petersburg are festively decorated with lights and garlands. In every square and practically in every apartment (especially if the family has small children) you can find beautiful natural fir trees (Christmas tree, yolka in Russian) full of ornaments and colored lights.

Several art festivals, music and markets are held in the city throughout the Christmas period. For example, in December-January the classical music festival called "Christmas Musical Meetings in Northern Palmyra" takes place. On these dates it is also a pleasure to watch the magical ballet "The Nutcracker", traditionally performed in major theaters of St. Petersburg.

Officially the Christmas holidays in Russia last from January 1st to 10th, most offices and public services remain closed. For Russian children, New Year's Eve is the most important and awaited event, like Christmas for most European children. It is a secular cheerful holiday with family celebrations and a large number of gifts. These days the Russian Santa Claus "Ded Moroz" (Grandfarther Frost) visits families and presents a lot of gifts to little children.

He is a fairy tale character, tall and strong, with a long white beard wearing a fur hat, a light blue or red coat, traditional Russian boots (valenki) and a bag full of gifts. Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), his granddaughter. To get gifts from Ded Moroz the kids have to dance around the Christmas tree, sing a song or recite a poem. Ded Moroz drives the traditional Russian three-horse sleigh (troyka).

On December 31st, many people flock to the beautifully lit streets after midnight to continue the celebration with snowballs, dancing and of course fireworks. Many young people and tourists spend the evening mainly in restaurants or cafes where special New Year's shows with live music, dancing, singing and Christmas markets are presented. Practically all the restaurants are crowded at that time but the atmosphere is very festive and cheerful. Then, on January 6/7, Orthodox Christmas is celebrated.

It is a religious holiday with liturgies that last all night in all the cathedrals and Orthodox churches of the city. The celebration of Christmas in Russia is considered the most important religious holiday of the year. Many people also celebrate the Orthodox New Year on the night of January 13/14 (according to the old Julian calendar).

Local people, but also tourists can indulge in skiing and skating, kids go down the snow hills on sleds, sculpt snowmen and throw snowballs at each other. In this period there are concerts, shows, competitions and Christmas markets where everything revolves around the New Year tree together with Ded Moroz, Snegurochka and other characters from Russian fairy tales. The main children's New Year's party is performed in the Anichkov Palace (former residence of Russian emperors).

During the winter in different places of St. Petersburg that change from year to year you can see ice sculptures made by professional designers. For example, in November-December 2005 an ice bar serving whiskey and vodka was erected in front of the Grand Hotel Europe. In early February 2006, the "frozen house" with ice sculptures was built on Palace Square. That "Ice Palace" was a copy of the ice house built by the Russian Empress Anna in 1740.

Visiting St. Petersburg in winter is truly fascinating. Not as many tourists as in summer, no queues to enter museums, the possibility of witnessing normal life in a city without "summer makeup". You will certainly get better accommodation prices too! Of course for the foreign visitor the temperature -7/-12 °C (which is normal at that time of year in St. Petersburg) will seem very cold, but if you go out into the well-protected streets the cold will not be so annoying. Warm or padded coats, wool sweaters, trousers, socks, hats, scarves, gloves, fur boots are recommended.

The latter should better have corrugated rubber soles to avoid slipping on ice. We encourage foreign tourists to visit St. Petersburg in winter and admire the charm of snow-covered streets and frozen canals. The snowy landscapes are so beautiful that you might not even notice the cold!

La tipica troika russa
The typical Russian troika
A walk in St. Petersburg on a horse-drawn sleigh, the Troika. The tradition of riding a horse-drawn sleigh, called Troika, dates back to the early years of the Russian Empire.

Today the troika in St. Petersburg has become a symbol of the Russian Christmas season, like the song "Jingle Bells" in the Western world. Imagine yourself aboard a richly decorated sleigh pulled by strong horses, crossing a thick layer of crystal white snow, surrounded by majestic period buildings.

Add to all this the melody of traditional Christmas bells and you will have the feeling of being inside a Russian winter fairy tale.

Sit in the front seat of the troika and revel in the true spirit of Russian Christmas culture in St. Petersburg.

It is possible to take a sleigh ride in different areas of St. Petersburg: from Yelagin Island, in the heart of the city, to the places where the ancient imperial residences surrounding the city are located, namely Pavlovsk, Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) .
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