Today is Christmas Day in Russia. Russian Orthodox calendar is 2 weeks behind the secular calendar and so all religious holidays are observed later than in the rest of the Christian world.
But, as I mentioned earlier, it is New Year's, not Christmas, that is the biggest holiday in Russia. It is on New Year's that people exchange presents - although this holiday is much less about presents and more about the general excitement and festivities. Also, what is interesting is that Russian kids dress in cosumes for New Year's parties at school much like US kids do on Halloween. They are not rewarded for their costumes with candy, though. The costumes are to impress their friends and also Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), who attends school parites with his graddaughter the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka). When I was growing up, almost all costumes were home made. On different years, I was: a snowflake, a gypsy fortune teller, and a matryoshka doll. I remember my sister being a little fox one year, complete with a home made cardboard mask and a tail from mom's fox coat collar. Boys all wanted to be Musketeers.
One cannot imagine the New Year's table without Olivier, also known as "the Russian salad." The salad has been around since 1800s, and its original recipe is hotly debated. Over the decades it has evolved into what we have today: potatoes, hard boiled eggs, green peas, beef/chicken/bologna and pickled cucumbers, all bound together with mayonnaise. I love this stuff. In fact, I can eat it all year long, why wait for New Years?
By the way, another traditional winter salad is vinegret, made from diced beets, sauerkraut, potatoes and green peas.
Olivier (The Russian Salad)
Serves 4 as a side dish
2 medium potatoes
1 medium carrot
2/3 cup frozen peas
3 medium dill pickles
4 slices bologna (or 1 cooked chicken breast)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or more, to taste)
fresh ground black pepper
In a medium pot, combine unpeeled potatoes, carrot and eggs. Add just enough water to cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs and let them cool in ice water. Continue cooking until carrots, then potatoes are soft if pierced with a fork. Cool completely then peel the skins off. Cook frozen peas in microwave until hot, then let them cool. Dice eggs, potatoes, carrots and bologna (or chicken) into 1/4 inch cubes. Mix all ingredients until well combined.