Russian Christmas carols include selections created just for the season as well as beautiful traditional folk songs with a winter theme. If you've never heard these songs before, you're in for a treat. Learn the history behind these popular carols while listening to them being performed.
Russian Christmas Songs
According to Smithsonian Folkways, "In the Russian Orthodox Church, 'only human voices are allowed to take part in the worship of the Lord." The carols are sung a cappella. This means there is no music, just the harmony of the choir. However, lots of contemporary recordings and popular songs often have musical accompaniment.
The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree
According to Germany's international broadcaster, DW Akademie, The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree is Russia's most popular Christmas tune. It is one of the rare songs that isn't about religion, but a fir tree nurtured by the forest and becoming a decorated tree for Christmas.
The song was written by a biologist, German-Russian Leonid Karlovich Beckmann for his young daughter. His wife was a pianist and wrote the lyrics by borrowing them from a poem by Raisa Kudasheva.
S Nami Bog (God Is With Us)
Written by an anonymous author during the 1800s for the Russian Orthodox Church, S Nami Bog is one of the most beautiful choral pieces to come from Russia. It is a beloved Christmas song in Russia, especially for the many adherents to the Russian Orthodox faith. It is often the leading track on collections of Russian Christmas carols.
Christ Is Born Today
Stepan Degtyarev (1766-1813) composed Christ Is Born Today. Degtyarev was a renowned Russian composer, a conductor and a singer. His best known works were nationalistic Russian choral pieces. In addition, he authored numerous operas as well as composed the first Russian oratorio (like an opera). He served as the conductor and choirmaster for the Sheremetev's serf orchestra.
Step' Da Step' Krugom
Also known as Song of the Frozen Coachman, Step' Da Step' Krugom is a Russian folk song that has become a traditional Christmas favorite. It is a sad but beautiful song that describes the last thoughts of a dying man lost in the snowy wilderness
Carol of the Russian Children
This is a 16th century Russian carol. The melodic almost mystical sounds of the folk carol reflects the harshness yet great beauty of the winter Russian countryside. It's melancholic with its slow pace. The lyrics are childlike, "Shaggy pony, shaggy oxen, gentle shepherds wait the light: little Jesu, little Mother, good Saint Joseph come this night..."
It is considered an ancient song, though its origins are unknown. It is possible it was an ancient pagan song that was late converted into a Christian song.
Dorogoi Dlinnoyu (By the Long Road)
Written by composer Boris Fomin and poet Konstantin Podrevsky in the early half of the 20th century, Dorogoi Dlinnoyu has a distinct winter theme. It has become a popular melancholy folk ballad for the holiday season in Russia. Additionally, this ballad is the basis for the hit song Those Were The Days, produced by Paul McCartney and sung by Mary Hopkins.
Song of the Snow Maiden
Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) is a Russian folk song that is popular in Russia during the Christmas season. The story is about a lonely Snow Maiden who is cold but when she falls in love, her heart warms and she melts. Many Russian fairy tales center around this theme. Most of the stories cast her as the Granddaughter of Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) or Russian Father Christmas.
Svetit Svetel Mesiats (Brightly Shines the Moon)
The popular traditional Russian folk song Svetit Svetel Mesiats is a favorite during the holiday season and is often featured in collections of Russian Christmas music. Unlike many of Russian's melancholy winter ballads, it is a lively tune with layers of vocal harmonies set to a fast, dancing rhythm. It's the perfect song for getting into the high spirits of the Christmas season.
Cherubic Hymn No. 7
Cherubic hymns are popular choral compositions sung during Christmas by the Orthodox church in Russia. Choral composer and conductor Dmitri Bortnyansky (1751-1825) wrote this hymn, which takes after that tradition. He led the Imperial Court Chapel of St. Petersburg and it became the best of Europe's choirs. His composition, Cherubic Hymn No. 7, became one of the Russian Orthodox church's most popular hymns.
Finding Other Russian Christmas Carols
Some websites are dedicated to Russian Christmas carols. Many offer either samples, downloads, or even purchasing links. Check out two with additional tunes below:
- Musica Russica has over 100 traditional Russian Christmas songs performed by well known Russian artists such as the Svetilen ensemble and the Patriarchate Choir.
- Barynya is the official site for the folk dance and music ensemble. A wide variety of Russian music is featured. The Christmas carol selection appears at the bottom of the page. Lyrics are also provided.
Russian Heritage Through Music
Listening to these songs is a great way to recapture memories, discover your Russian heritage or simply expand your world knowledge. Music is truly a universal language. Listening to Christmas music from Russia allows you to connect with another culture.