Swing, Gospel Bring City Christmas Cheer

SwissotelSweet Santas at the Swissotel
December 25 may be a normal metro-riding, working Thursday for the majority of Moscow residents, but for homesick expats looking to celebrate Christmas by the Western calendar despite the lack of snow, days off or holiday bonuses, there is an overstuffed stocking of yuletide events to be found around the city.

The Moscow International Performing Arts Center will be bringing in some American holiday cheer with several concerts and a Christmas ball designed to stir spectators and mice alike out of their seats on the night before Christmas.

Golden Gospel Singers
The Golden Gospel Singers promise to make the audience work when they perform in Moscow on Christmas Eve.
Opening the Christmas ball is a group of singers from Harlem known as the Golden Gospel Singers. The seven-person ensemble promises to fill the Siberian wood-paneled Svetlanov Hall with traditional gospel, spirituals, pop and American Christmas songs from artists such as R. Kelly and Whitney Houston. Martin Schaefer, who has been touring with the group for 10 years, commented that the singers are "not on stage just by themselves. The audience participates a lot." His advice: "Don't come just to look, but to work. People get really energized." More bright than calm, the "Gospel Christmas" program will not only deck the halls but is hoping that it can bring the entire auditorium to its feet shouting "hallelujah" before the night is out.

Next will be the Glen Miller Orchestra, who will ring in Christmas past with its big band "Swing Christmas" with signature hits from the 1940s-1960s. Under the direction of Wil Salden and with some help from the vocal group "Moonlight Serenade," this world-famous ensemble promises a full list of swing and jazz compositions, including Pennsylvannia 6-500, Over the Rainbow and more, as well as other songs with a Christmas theme, reminiscent of an old-time, toe-tapping, Norman Rockwell American Christmas.

Those in search of a more silent, holy night can find a range of Christmas Eve services at St. Andrews Anglican church. Rich with nativity and "Light of the World" symbolism on one of Moscow's darkest days of the year, there will be a candlelight Christmas Eve service starting at 10:30 p.m. complete with carols such as "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." Airport customs and holiday traffic notwithstanding, the evening will also feature the arrival of the Bethlehem Flame straight from the site of the original manger.

Folks hungry for a traditional Christmas feast or just looking for some Christmas Cookies to leave by the fireplace for Santa will find holiday menus at several prestigious Moscow dining establishments. Pastry chef Frederic Andrieu at the glass-ceilinged Swissotel Lightbar will be creating a festive collection of gingerbread houses (1,230), winter cakes (from 1,760) and traditional Christmas cookies, stollens and strudels for the holidays. Your own spread of Christmas Eve traditional fare can also be found in the extensive buffet at the Renaissance Hotel on one of many plates for 1,990 rubles, with a 50% discount for children.

In the tradition of the post-Christmas-angel Scrooge, many Westerners will also choose to give back to their community during the holidays. Join an international group of volunteers eager to spread the Christmas bounty at one of the two Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy soup kitchens. From 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Dec. 24 and 26, you can don an apron and dish up a Christmas meal of pelmeni, soup and bread for some of the more than 300 women, children and pensioners who are served there daily. For new volunteer Anna Marie, from Sweden, it's the combination of giving and social interaction with pensioners that has brought her holiday cheer. "People here are so nice. If you give them a smile, they'll smile right back."

The Christmas Ball begins at 7 p.m., Dec. 24 at the International House of Music, located at 58 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya. Metro Paveletskaya. Tel.: 730-1011. http://www.mmdm.ru.

St. Andrew's Anglican Church, 8/5 Voznesensky Pereulok. Metro Okhotny Ryad/Pushkinskaya. Tel.: 629-0990. www.standrewsmoscow.org.

Christmas Confectionaries can be found at Swissotel's 1st floor Lightbar, 52/6 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya. Metro Paveletskaya. Tel.: 221-5452. And at the Renaissance Hotel, 18/1 Olimpisky Prospekt. Metro Prospekt Mira. Tel.: 931-9000.

Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy has soup kitchens in two locations near Metro Universitet and Metro Kuznetsky Most. www.moscowprotestantchaplaincy.org. Contact Pastor Bob to find out about volunteering Christmas week at 8-962-943-9211.