Christmas with the Tsars

On view in the Lower Gallery November 16, 2019 – January 26, 2020 

The exhibition Christmas with the Tsars presents Imperial-era Christmas ornaments, greeting cards, and other Christmas memorabilia from the Museum’s collections. These rare artifacts are part of the extensive gift of Kim Balaschak to the Museum. Also included are pieces of Imperial porcelain from the Romanov household, on loan from the collection of Ray Piper, a notable collector of Imperial porcelain. A tree decorated with Faberge-themed ornaments will be contributed by Susan Johnson.

Christmas traditions as we know them were brought to Russia by the tsars. It was Peter the Great who introduced January 1 as the beginning of the year. Peter’s great-great-granddaughter-in-law, Grand Duchess Alexandra Fedorovna decorated the first tree in the Moscow Kremlin in 1817. When her husband ascended the Russian throne as Nicholas I, the Christmas tree became an integral part of the holiday season in the Winter Palace. A century later, on the eve of the Revolution, the tradition of the Christmas tree was widespread among Russia’s upper and middle classes. Peasants celebrated Christmas with feasts, joyful troika rides, caroling, and more. Christmas became prohibited under the Soviet regime, and returned to Russia in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.