Belgian students compare Russian and Belgian Christmas: ‘We don’t celebrate it at the same time which feels different’

Whether Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January or the 25th of December, students everywhere are appreciating the efforts put in to make this period so festive. How does Russia compare to Belgium this time of year? Several students from Belgium and Russia gave their impressions.

Eas Dobbelaere, a Belgian exchange student in Moscow, said, ‘When I was walking around on Moscow’s Red Square Christmas market it reminded me of Brussels’ Grand Place.’

However, there are some differences. Another Belgian exchange student, Nour Marzougui, mentioned that Christmas lights and decorations in Russia were beautiful and more impressive than those in Belgium. ‘However, the Christmas markets there are smaller than the ones here,’ she adds.

Openwork light arches made of strands of glowing garlands found in Moscow. © Andrey Androsov

Another difference the exchange students in Moscow noted was the lack of marketing-related Christmas decorations. Eas mentioned how in Russia, stores are less ‘christmasised’, although Christmas goods can still be found on sale in grocery stores.

Orthodox Christmas
The next difference the students in Russia noticed is the time of celebration. ‘We don’t celebrate Christmas at the same time,’ states Nour Marzougui. As most Russians are considered Orthodox Christians, Christmas is not celebrated on the same day as here in Belgium, December 25th but rather on the 7th of January. The Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar. Since Belgian holidays are based on catholic holidays, they fall according to the Julian calendar.

Even though the Soviet Union prohibited religious activities, the traditions remained alive and were mostly moved to New Years’ celebrations. ‘Traditionally the main symbols of the holiday are the New Year trees with colourful balls and garlands. In many streets and squares, they are joined, as usual, by luminous numbers of the coming year – 2022,’ says Andrey Androsov, a journalism student in Moscow.

New year’s tree in Moscow, on Manezhnaya Square © Andrey Androsov

What about the way in which we celebrate?
Ulrike Van Essche, a Belgian student studying at KU Leuven, explained how she and her family celebrate this time of the year.

‘Christmas with my family is board games, snacks out of the oven and red wine. We also give each other presents but in Secret Santa style. We put up our Christmas tree four days after Sinterklaas on the 6th of December. We don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve together, I usually come together with my friends. My mum is in bed around 10 PM.’ (laughs)

Text: Danica Van der Merwe and Renske Van Hoof, final editor: Jana Huysmans
Pictures: © Danica Van der Merwe and Andrey Androsov