I wish all my readers who celebrate Christmas today a lovely and peaceful festive season. May you and your near and dear stay warm and safe, and may the Eternal Light shine on you in all its bountiful abundance.
I spent a quite evening yesterday, eventually winding up to decorate my room for festivities. Today I’m filming an interview about one of Moscow streets and its ghosts. Later in the day I will do some teaching. Starting Saturday 23rd, I’m ticking off the students who I’m going to see in the new year.
I also plan to visit a church to celebrate St Spyridon of Trimythos whose day falls on December 25th in the Russian Orthodox calendar. It is a great serendipity, I believe, that two of the most venerated Christian saints – St Nicholas and St Spyridon – are both venerated in December. Once again, it proves that December is always a magical month!
As usual, it was hard to find a single photo to add to this post, so here’s a galore of Christmas pictures for you to enjoy! And below is a very cute GIF to mark the involvement of our fluffy friends.
Today is Christmas Eve in the countries that celebrate it on December 25th. As for me, this time has marked, for the past few years, the period of celebrations that end on January 7th. I celebrate December 25th as a family day, a reminder that Christmas and New Year is all about the family and miracles.
In 2019, I wrote a fairy tale about a girl asking Santa Claus to help raise the notorious fog in the Lake District, so that her parents could reach home in time for Christmas dinner. The main idea I expressed there was this: Love and Faith make miracles. This is what I believe, and this is what the story of Nativity teaches us.
I had a rather calm day today: I went to give a home lesson to my student, then I had lunch, and around 4 pm I decided to have a lie-down. After the most eventful 4th quarter I do need some rest, especially as I still have to do a lot of filming and teaching in this last week of December.
I’m going to spend the remainder of the day preparing for tomorrow, putting up the garlands, and possibly recounting the great moments of the passing year.
Today the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the Day of St Nicholas. In Europe, his day falls on December 6th; and in Russia it is otherwise called the Wintry Nikola Day. There is also the Spring Nikola Day, celebrated on May 22.
This saint was widely celebrated in both churches, however, the Western iconography supersedes the Eastern in many aspects. Western artists liked to portray him making one of the two miracles. First, was the Miracle of Three Sisters when the saint offered them 3 bags with gold to relieve them of an unnecessary marriage. In fact, these three bags have become the saint’s symbol. The second was the Miracle of Sailors when the saint saved the ship caught up in tempest.
Later on the saint became a favourite character of children’s celebrations, and it is through this tradition that he eventually became a staple of today’s popular culture.
So below are some pictures from the Renaissance period and the 19th century, showing the change in the saint’s role.
Girolamo Macchietti, The Charity of St NicholasNicholas Falco, St Nicholas and St DenisSt Nicholas Saving the Sailors, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Incidentally, my father’s name is Nicholas (Nikolai), so my paternal name is Nikolaevna (daughter of Nikolai, i.e.). My parish church and the one where I got baptised 5 years ago in another parish in the centre of Moscow are both consecrated to him. So I certainly believe that this saint plays an important role in my life, too.
I don’t often write about my birthday on this blog. I am very grateful to all my Russian and some foreign friends who sent their greetings. I spent this day with my father at the performance of the Nutcracker Ballet by Saint-Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre at the Hall of All-Church Congregations of Christ the Saviour Cathedral. After the performance I went to the Cathedral to attend a part of the service and came home. It was a roller-coaster day but I chose to live it on my terms although in someone’s opinion it was totally heartless.
You see, we are often so hard on ourselves, and in time this burden becomes unbearable. I had to make a difficult decision, but when I spoke to my good friend he suggested this was a leap of faith for me. Either I would choose myself, especially on a day like this, and enjoy the ballet; or I would stay home and sink in tears. So I went to enjoy the wonderful music of Tchaikovsky. I did cry during the performance, and it is obvious now that I wasn’t totally heartless, but I firmly stood by my decision, and this clearly counts.
I shall write about my 2023 in this year’s final post. Now I’d only say that it takes courage and determination to follow your dreams, but the payoff is massive.
Today I gave a masterclass on working with different kinds of sources when writing a Wikipedia-style article.
Earlier in 2023 I have become a member of Znanie Society, which used to be a highly reputable Soviet organization involved in education and enlightenment. In June I took part in their project Znanie.Wiki, which saw me contributing several articles on one of Moscow’s historic districts. Finally, in November and just now, in December, I gave two masterclasses. The first was on self-editing (which is a very important skill for online writers); the second was on finding and working with sources for an article.
It is a great opportunity to bring my life-long experience as a writer, editor, and researcher to a big audience. I believe in importance of sharing our life and skills with others, and I am always happy to do this, especially as I am getting older, and my experience is becoming richer. I know I could share it with my children, but I don’t think it would be enough for me. I would still look to spread my knowledge far and wide. Hence I am very grateful when such opportunities come my way.
Since last year I’ve been taking part in different academic events. Last year I had a paper on the pictorial fate of Wales, from Richard Wilson to William Turner, and I had an article published in a paperback.
This year I took part in another conference dedicated to the notion of normality and abnormality as regards to physical and mental health. My subject was John Leland, the first English antiquary, who sadly lost his wit following the death of Henry VIII. I was trained in Tudor History but I haven’t done much research in the field since returning to Russia in 2010. So, setting my foot onto this terra ferma was a bit odd but thrilling.
Today I received a PDF copy of a soon-to-be-published collection of our essays. This time the collection will be electronic, although I certainly do not mind. As far as I am concerned, my article being accepted is the most important things considering that I am currently an independent researcher.
My plan is to allocate enough time for my academic studies next year and to finally do my Ph.D. The latter is unlikely to happen in 2024, nonetheless I should work towards this goal.
Another important aspect of December 31st was always a last-minute cleaning. I have recently written a text about residential and office cleaning in the Crimea, Russia; and me writing it in December naturally made me remember our preparation for New Year. Not that we didn’t clean and tidy the house before December 31st. However, this date seemed like a watershed between the soon-to-be “then” and the impending “future”, and there you were – in the “now” where all sorts of things had to be done at the last minute.
I must admit, I have since reviewed my attitude to this procedure. I don’t mean to downplay its importance; yet I believe all cleansing and tidying should be done the day before. New Year’s Eve is all about winding down and saying a grateful goodbye to the old year.
And even if you celebrate Christmas first, I still hope you find time to buy presents and to clean your house in advance, and perhaps even cook some of the ingredients. Let Christmas Day be a solemn, calm occasion, which it has always been meant to be.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is that of decorating a New Year tree. It was still the Soviet times, so we barely mentioned Christmas/Nativity. Instead, the whole country celebrated New Year. In my family we traditionally unwrapped, set up and decorated a New Year tree on December 31st. There were balls of different sizes, icicles and pines, bells and all sorts of figurines: a Spaceman, a Dog, a Cat, Gena the Crocodile, a Cucumber, and two sets of characters from the Russian fairy tales, Morozko and Ryaba the Hen. Most of them have survived to this day, and that is at least 43 years, if not more.
Decorating a tree with these delicate fragile objects was as solemn as attending a mass. I’m not sure I’d spent the whole year waiting for this occasion. But once December 31st was there I couldn’t wait to help my mother put those toys on the New Year tree’s branches. It was a very family thing.
My last year’s Christmas Tree Challenge has brought me a lot of traffic, thanks to Pinterest. Most importantly, it has inspired me to carry out November Thanks series of posts featuring pumpkins in beautiful interiors. But this is December now, and we all want a kind of magic.
So, this time I shall do a series of posts featuring Christmas trees up and close. Admittedly, not all Pinterest photos like that are breathtakingly beautiful, but I hope to choose those that will be of interest for the year to come.
Yet for the first post in December Magic I have once again chosen a full-length image of a Christmas tree in a festive interior. Tell me, are you beginning to decorate your house for Christmas?
I love this line from Paul McCartney’s Young Boy. It succinctly tells about the principal source of all bountiful things in this world. It is Love. We often mistake other things for it, but, as the new world is presently unraveling, it is necessary to get back to where it all began.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
So, Love never fails, and this is what we should aim for: to never fail those whom we love and who love us in return. Be it people or animals, buildings or trees, they all last only as long as we love them. Sadly, we spend eternity waiting for Love whereas the task is to find it, to open our hearts to receive it, and to take it further, to spread it far and wide.
When we learn to be proactive in this, our world will have changed forever.