We have a bumper offering for you today, to celebrate this Christmas Eve:

Not only can you get Anna Kashina‘s Blades of the Old Empire sequel, The Guild of Assassins, but we also have both Seven Forges and The Blasted Lands titles from James A. Moore. If you missed the first title from Anna, Blades of the Old Empire, in the promotion don’t worry as you can still buy this title at the promo price.  To avail of this festive £1 – or currency equivalent – offer, follow these  simple instructions:

1. Visit the Robot Trading Company at www.robottradingcompany.com
2. Add the book(s) you’d like to buy to your shopping basket
3. Add the magic word ‘mincepie’ to the ‘coupon/voucher’ box
4. Click the ‘update basket’ button and the discount will be applied
Take a moment to enjoy this festive Russian piece from Anna:

Christmas celebration in Russia

Traditional holiday celebrations typically stem from folklore and mythology. Perhaps not surprisingly, I believe that my native country, Russia, holds a unique edge in this area. Russia spans the broad geographical and cultural boundary between East and West. While a lot of Russian traditions are European, the territories covered by this country are more than half Asian, and this puts a unique twist on these traditions. Russian folklore blends elements of pagan and Christian into a truly organic form.

On the surface, Russian and Western Christmas differ only by the date: January 7th, instead of December 25, following the Russian Orthodox church calendar. Just like in the West, the Russian celebration involves a feast, presents, and importantly the decorated fir tree (which, during the secular Soviet times, came to be known as the “New Year fir” or “novogodnyaya elka”). But this is pretty much where the main similarities end. Underneath it all are layers of traditions that go all the way back to the good old pagan days, before Russia was baptized, when the Slavic people that inhabited these territories celebrated winter solstice.

The central figure of the Russian Christmas is Old Man Frost, better known as Grandfather Frost. He is an old, powerful man in a rich, ornamental coat, with long white hair and beard, and of course with a sack of presents. Grandfather Frost does bear resemblance to Santa Claus, and he can occasionally be seen riding a sled through the winter forest, but he definitely does not say “ho, ho, ho”, and you would never ever catch him climbing chimneys. His origins, from the old pagan gods of cold and winter, make him seem quite ominous, and in the old pre-Christian days he definitely did not bear too many gifts. He is kind to children, and generally brings them presents, but he commands more reverence and respect, and is surrounded by more mystery, than typical for a festive holiday spirit.

Grandfather Frost usually comes with a companion, his granddaughter, the beautiful Snow Maiden. She dresses in an ornamental blue and white coat, and wears either a fur hat or a traditional Russian head ornament, kokoshnik. Her colors are always blue and white, with silver and crystal decorations. She is much kinder that Grandfather Frost, but also much more elusive. If you misbehave, Grandfather Frost can get angry, but the Snow Maiden will just glide away and you will never see her again.

The night before Christmas spirits and old deities can roam freely in the world, and one can get a lot of favors — or curses — by appealing to them. On this night, young maidens gather for fortune telling. I have been told of at least a dozen different fortune telling methods specific to that day, and I know there is a wealth of others. My favorite is pouring hot wax into water, holding the resulting shape against the candle, and interpreting the shape of its shadow on the wall. Another way was to look between two mirrors in a semi-dark room and try to see all the way into this mirror corridor. You say special spells when you do these things, and sometimes it can become quite frightening.

Another Russian Christmas tradition is kolyadki, when people dress in costumes and knock on doors to ask for food. Think Halloween, but on a grander scale. The costumes are meant to be scary, and I believe the people dress up to represent some evil spirits that need to be appeased on the Christmas eve. In old days such people were invited into houses to share a feast and ward off the evil spirits they represented. Special foods were being made for the purpose, and those dressed up sang special songs when going from house to house.

In old days, many of these traditions coincided with the Winter Solstice. In Russia, and many Western countries, the church went to great lengths to superimpose Christian saints on all these old deities, and to Christianize the entire celebration. It worked better in the West. It did not quite work in Russia.

I have grown up in a large city, where some of these traditions seemed distant or impossible to perform properly. Yet, I always had a chance to go outside to meet Grandfather Frost, and if I was especially lucky, to play with the beautiful Snow Maiden. Living in the west, I miss those traditions, and hope they will stay alive for centuries to come.

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