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Russian experiences American Christmas

December 19, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- This Christmas will be very different from any other Anastasia Mikahylova, 17, has experienced.

For one, she will be celebrating the holiday on December 25 for the first time.

Mikahylova, who is attending Brandon High School as a foreign exchange student this year, normally celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7 as an Orthodox Christian in Russia. While Christmas is important as a religious holiday and her family stays in the church until morning, the bigger holiday celebration is for the New Year, celebrated as it is here on Dec. 31.

"We celebrate Christmas at a different time, Catholics use the Druid calendar and we have the Gregorian calendar," explained Mikahylova, who is staying with Kathleen and Jim Russell, her host parents, while at BHS. "I am really looking forward to Christmas here, because I have never had a Christmas stocking. We don't have that tradition, so it was new for me, (host mom Kathleen) bought a Christmas stocking for me, and people decorate them. It was so much fun to decorate. I put my name on it. It was a new experience for me and really great. Yesterday I was talking to her about the Christmas stuff and she told me about when and why people do stockings and it was really interesting."

One tradition that Americans and Russians share is the Christmas tree, she added. In Russia, Christmas trees and lights are put up the week before Dec. 31. Then, on New Year's Eve, food is prepared while her family watches New Year television shows. They begin eating around 10 p.m. and dinner includes a traditional salad called "olivie" that Mikahylova describes as similar to egg salad with slightly different ingredients. There is also meat, lots of New Year cookies, and Clementines. Gifts are exchanged and at about five minutes before midnight, they watch the Russian president on television as he speaks about the good and bad events of the past year and his expectations for the New Year. Then, they watch as the old year ticks away on a large clock on the Kremlin.

"The clock is shown on the screen for all Russian people, then we open the champagne and make wishes and we all celebrate each other," Mikahylova said. "Some people go outside and burn fireworks and the fireworks, they last the whole night."

While gifts are exchanged on New Year's, no actual presents are given on Christmas. Mikahylova also notes that while Americans make Christmas gift lists, Russians do not tell what they would like—instead, "it's a big surprise."

Russian celebrations do include "Ded Moroz," the American equivalent of Santa Claus. In Mikahylova's hometown of Cheboksary, in central Russia, parents take their children to the town square to see Ded Moroz, where he asks children if they have behaved well during the year and asks them to sing a song.

In Russia, Ded Moroz has a granddaughter named Snegurochka, whom he has lost. Children call for her. Gifts arrive from the Russian Santa Claus the morning of Jan. 1 or are often given in person at public celebrations.

Mikahylova is very excited about her American Christmas.

"I feel the atmosphere of Christmas is coming," she said. "Every evening we turn on the lights on the Christmas tree and it makes the Christmas mood. We already put presents under the tree. When you see some presents are for you, you're so curious. It's so difficult not to look."

Mikahylova adds that it is challenging to be away from her family, especially as she is her parents' only child and has never been away from them for more than two weeks. However, her host family is very supportive and "do not let me give up."

"They are a really good family and I am happy they chose me as their exchange student," she said. "I learned new things from them. We learn something about each of us every day and I think that is the best thing. I am in a Christmas choir at St. Anne Church, so I am really looking forward to Christmas Eve and performing at the Mass."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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