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Christmas in Moscow

The State of Moscow: Christmas There

(Mosukowa no katachi: achira no kurisumasu)

by MIYAMOTO Yuriko (宮本百合子)
December 1931

It was only the tenth day after we’d arrived in Moscow.

Christmas morning, 1928. We hadn’t the slightest clue what it would be like.

In the Soviet Union, red flags decorate the streets for May Day in the spring, for the anniversary of the October Revolution, etc.

Christmas itself, if it can be said to be the celebration of anyone’s birth, is in celebration of Jesus Christ, not the little baby Volodya Lenin. I can hardly read Russian, but I have a gosizdat (state publisher) book that I bought because the illustrations were interesting. Its title is “Nice Stories from the Bible.” Now that I’ve finally tried to read the first page, I can see that it’s written in this style:

“Dear reader, there is a book. When a priest reads from it in church, everyone kneels and listens carefully. When it is opened and then closed, each one kisses. This book is called the Bible.

“In the Bible are written a large number of miracles that are the result of God. It is written that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. But there is one odd thing: that the author of this thick Bible was not God himself. It is said that we are all God’s disciples. Disciples who signed with the names Job or Matthew wrote it. It is said that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, but if there really is a God, he must be illiterate to not have even written his own name.” Etc., etc.

No store in Moscow has a Christmas sale.

Father Frost brought pure white snow. Thick white birch smoke gushed from each chimney. When we headed toward Arbat Square with its old cathedral painted red and white, the snow was falling on the embers of an open fire and the Christmas fir sellers were out, as those who sell the New Year’s pine decorations do. Servant girls were balancing shopping baskets under one arm and pulling on a bough of a large fir with the other hand, haggling over it.

We, however, were staying in a hotel.

On top of which, it isn’t as if the traditions of putting candles on a fir tree and drinking champagne were ones we had held since childhood.

We got on a sleigh and went to another hotel, one with carpet in the hallways.

Kuroda Reiji had come over from Germany.

If anyone could get a clear sense of what Christmas means in terms of the bourgeois European sentiment, it would be the cosmopolitan Kuroda.

It was decided that they would buy a fir with candles that evening, take it to their hotel, and then we would have tea.

In the evening, scrap of paper clutched in hand, we clip-clopped our way down a set of stairs to a food shop that smelled of pickled cabbage.

Looking at the paper, despite our clumsy pronunciation, we managed to buy salted salmon roe. We bought pickled cucumbers.

We bought ham.

The fir tree Kuroda bought was settled snugly in a pot, and it had candles of various colors, about 6 cm tall, placed on each branch ceremoniously.

When they were lit, a sparkling silver glow shone over the tree’s branches like ice. It was beautiful.

As the night wore on, the frozen windows from the steam of the samovar created even more beautiful ice.

Christmas 1928 was spent forgetting about the idea of Christmas entirely.

The shapes of the tree sellers, with their fires lit on the snowy night, twelve degrees below freezing, disappeared from view in Moscow’s main square.

Leningrad’s Women Workers and Farmers sells 150,000 copies, economically propping up Leningrad’s Pravda.

The editor is at 306-7 Gimalayskaya. She has a daughter of just five years old. She has a dog called Chamberlain. The child had said:

“Mother! It’s so sad to chop down fir trees. I don’t want one!”

In the workers’ clubs of Moscow, there were anti-religious farces, music, and dancing until dawn.

As the Five-Year Plan is beginning to be carried out in the Soviet Union, churches and priests are being completely boycotted as a practical aspect of the construction of the socialist society for the proletariat and the peasants.

In the countryside, the youths, the impoverished, and the middle-class farmers have decided to organize themselves into more efficient collective farms. The rural bourgeois wealthy farmers are against it, shooting out their windows at the activist youth and killing them.

The ones who allow the priests to eat and drink through alms are the rich farmers. The priests and the wealthy farmers, under the auspices of the cross, interfere with the collectivization of the rural communities.

Drive the priests out of the towns!

As Lenin said, the anti-religious activities in the Soviet Union come from the reality of the construction of Socialism.

In 1929, the priests were begging in front of bakeries in full dress on Christmas day.