Russian Christmas Tea Traditions
Tea-loving Russians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7th, with Chinese tea among the warming winter drinks that Russians have adopted into their traditional fare.
In the Russian Orthodox Church Christmas has long been celebrated on the 6th and 7th days of January since this was decided to have been the birthday of Jesus.
As well as the feasts that Russians enjoy on the evening of the 6th, many Russians enjoy a number of hot drinks, among them a warm berry concoction that can be had as a soup or a drink (Kissel) and good quality tea. Nowadays this could well be imported Chinese (usually black) tea, but Russia also has a more local history of infusions for pleasure or medicinal use.
It is believed that a Mongolian ruler first introduced tea to Russia in the form of a gift to the Tsar Michael Fyodorovich in 1638. Over the centuries, more diplomatic gifts of tea cemented the symbolism of the drink. The upper-class Russian palate became used to appreciation of many different kinds of tea, with imported Chinese tealeaves and porcelain becoming cherished symbols of status.
Ordinary Russians would not usually have had access to Chinese tealeaves before the 18th century. They instead perfected a whole culture of drinks made from fruits and herbs. Wild herbs from splendid Siberia are known for their health benefits – try an infusion of Siberian hopcones, chamomile, bearberry (also called wild cranberry) or comfrey to feel their improving effects on lungs, skin and mental focus. Perhaps the kinds of things one needs to brave the infamous Russian winters.
Over time, as Russia became more connected to far off economies, new staples and new equipment arrived. Many people know of the iconic 'Samovar' teakettle and how it is used to make the drink and keep it warm: in chapter 3, line 37 of 'Eugene Onegin' by Alexander Pushkin (published in 1832, and seen as the key masterpiece of early modern Russian literature) both a typical Samovar and a "Chinese teapot" make an appearance.
Nowadays, imported teas have taken their place alongside the fruit and herbal teas and both may be enjoyed over a typical Russian Christmas. If you get to enjoy a winter tea in the Russian style, you might notice other details: drinking from glasses placed into special holders, for instance. Keep your eyes open and compare with the tea drinking traditions wherever you are from.
NB – Winter holiday decorations in Russia may also involve a decorated tree. To brighten up the Christmas tree in your household, why not decorate it with Tea Plays tea bonbons? You can pluck your favorite tea from the branches when you feel the need to warm yourself against the cold…