by Josh Taylor
Last month, I took an in depth look at a pavilion we never saw in Epcot’s World Showcase. Russia, or the Soviet Union, would have been an extraordinary area, vast in size, large in scope, and rich in culture. Several shops, restaurants, and shows were planned for the pavilion. Concept art was drawn up. Michael Eisner even announced the forthcoming Russian pavilion at the beginning of the “Disney Decade,” but it would never come to be. With that said, and in celebration of Christmas in July, I wanted to take a detailed look into what this pavilion would have been like during the Holidays at Walt Disney World.
Epcot, at its core, has always been a place to learn, whether it be about the latest technological advances in Future World or the beloved cultural traditions of the past and far off regions of the globe in World Showcase. That is why I love the Holidays at Epcot. It is easily my favorite park during November and December. World Showcase is filled with festivities for guests of all ages. It is great to learn, and to see other guests learning, about the magic of the holidays in other nations of the world, broadening the scope of the adults and youth. So when talking about a Russian pavilion, one can only assume that the traditions of this Eurasian country would come to life in the World Showcase. So what could you expect during the holidays in the Russian pavilion?
We all love to eat, and especially during the holidays. Russia is no different, but here is the kicker, the Holy Supper or Christmas Eve dinner is a twelve-course meal. This isn’t just popular to Russia, but most of Eastern Europe. In a traditional household, no meat, eggs, or milk are eaten during this time so they are excluded from the meal; however, that leaves room for fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains to take over the meal. Fish has always been a symbol mixed in with Christian beliefs and is used not only as a symbolic measure here, but as the main course. Cod is the fish of choice and can be cooked in several different ways. Mushrooms and peas are also a common pairing and can be seen as one of the courses. Boiled dumplings, soup, and sauerkraut are also on the menu, and to round out the night, jam filled doughnuts would be a traditional dessert for Christmas eve.
A tradition that accompanies your 12-course meal here in Russia would be Vzvar, a common drink to have when someone is born. Drinking this would be symbolic of the birth of Jesus. The drink is made up of honey and fruits boiled up. The drink is served warm, much like an apple cider, at least the kid friendly kind. The variations on fruit is up the chef in charge but honey is always added to sweeten the drink.
After this elongated dinner has filled you up, who would come to visit you to leave presents below your tree? Well, many Americans can speculate that Babushka, a folk tale character would, but this is incorrect knowledge. The real answer here comes the from recent history of Russia. As most of you may know, Russia was once the Soviet Union and during the communist reign over Eastern Europe, Christian beliefs were tossed to the wayside and atheism became the national religious policy. During this time, Christmas became null and void, but an emphasis on the New Year became a huge celebration to make up for the lack of Holiday spirit. When Russia was restored after the Soviet Union fell, some beliefs during this time stuck. One such belief is that of Grandfather Frost or Ded Moroz. Father Frost would come to visit on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Eve. He would bring his sack of toys for all of the children, much like Santa Claus does. However, unlike Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost always brings his Granddaughter, Snegurochka, with him to greet all of the boys and girls as they drop off their presents.
Other traditions in Russia would be the decorating of yolka, their version of the Christmas tree. With glass ornaments being quite expensive and communism being largely against all things Christmas, yolka trees were instead decorated with homemade decorations and fruits. Another great tradition, much like the Western world, is caroling. It would be common to see several groups drop by your home on Christmas eve singing songs for food or money.
With all of this, what could we see come to World Showcase? Well, if it’s up to me, I say bring on the 12-course meal and drinks. I could definitely see a traditional Christmas Eve supper reservation being made specifically around the holidays with the area’s main restaurant serving traditional courses along with its already established menu during the holidays. Grandfather Frost would also be making guest appearances throughout the day, telling his tale and asking children what they might want this year on New Year’s Eve. As a great KidCot stop, why not decorate a homemade ornament for your yolka, made from dried fruits, yarns, and an assortment of other crafts, and of course a Russian choral group singing songs of the Holidays. Top this off with a few ice castles and some snow fall and I think we would have a great World Showcase pavilion for Christmas.
What are your thoughts on the traditions of Russia? Could you see yourself spending time here for the Holiday season? Do you spend time in World Showcase at all during the Holidays? If so, what are your favorite traditions you’ve learned about and why?
Be sure to follow Josh Taylor on Twitter at @kidredo. You can read more from Josh at www.disneyparkhistory.wordpress.com