Celebrate Russian Americans Rozhdestvo

Just as a mix of Native Americans, early European explorers, and eventually settlers from Spain, England, and France shaped the United States, Russia shares a similar story in having ethnic groups from across the supercontinent Eurasia found their way to this region [source: Crozier].

Slavic Tribes, nomads who made their territory the eastern part of the country near what would later become Poland, are some of the first permanent settlers in the region [source: Britannica]. Although the Slavs were never permanently expelled from this land, they were often overtaken by invading groups, to which the Khazars and the Scandinavian Vikings belonged [Source: Britannica].

In the 13th century Russia was in the hands of the Mongols , a powerful invading force that changed the country's history significantly. And although this "Golden Horde" was eventually defeated, they never completely disappeared and were able to remain present in Russia for almost a century [source: Crozier].

From these early and violent origins, a fantastically diverse Russia was born. The loss of the Russian Empire in World War I, Joseph Stalin's rise to power and his tough authority put a brake on the country's cultural development until 1991, when communism lost its hold and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was dissolved.

While the collapse of the Soviet Union created difficulties, including the loss of some basic social services, it also created an environment of cultural freedom that did not exist before. Despite all of its struggles, Russia has some of the most colorful ways to express itself. The iconic architecture with onion domes and the realistic Works of art of Soviets , advocated by the oppressive Communist Party because it believed that art belongs to the people and should focus on education and inspiration, are just a few examples.

Culture and education are two other areas in which Russia has made an indelible mark. Catherine the Great first introduced ballet to emphasize culture and education, and the art form flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries with the influences of Italian and French dance companies [source: Hosking]. Today, Russian ballet is considered the purest expression of art. Russia's focus on science and education dates back to Peter the Great, who instituted reforms that focused on higher education to implement his vision for modernization [source: Hosking].

Such an interesting culture must have something to offer in the kitchen, right? Check out the next section and learn about traditional Russian cuisine.