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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lighting Up Christmas and New Year's

APNew Year's festivities in full swing on Red Square, where thousands of people danced, drank and launched fireworks to welcome 2002.
Russian Orthodox believers marked Christmas on Sunday and Monday in churches ranging from the splendor of Moscow's reconstructed Christ the Savior Cathedral to the war-ruined church in Grozny.

President Vladimir Putin, who spent Sunday touring historic Golden Ring towns east of Moscow, extolled the virtues of the Russian Orthodox Church in a Christmas message to the nation.

"Orthodoxy, which occupies a special place in Russian history, continues to play a paramount role in preserving the moral pillars of social life," Putin said. "The Russian Orthodox Church, acting closely together with members of other traditional religions and creeds, makes remarkable efforts to improve the spiritual health of our compatriots, foster patriotism and strengthen civil peace and accord."

Ivan Sekretarev / AP

A New Year's merry-maker waving a sparkler and a President Putin mask in front of St. Basil's Cathedral.

After his Sunday visit to Pereslavl-Zalessky, Gus-Khrustalny and Vladimir, Putin on Monday visited Maloyaroslavets in the Kaluga region, where he watched a primary school's Christmas performance and received Christmas greetings from Archbishop Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk.

In a sign of the growing popularity of Orthodox Christmas, more than 200,000 people visited some 300 Moscow churches for Christmas Eve services Sunday night, Interfax reported.

A poll by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, confirmed the trend, showing that 74 percent of Russian citizens intended to celebrate Orthodox Christmas this year, up from 58 percent in 1997 and 62 percent in 2000.

In Moscow, Patriarch Alexy II led services at Christ the Savior Cathedral, climaxing with a five-hour-long Christmas Eve service from 10 p.m.

In Chechnya, the Russian Orthodox church in Grozny has been largely wrecked by gunfire, but church warden Natalya Filicheva planned psalm-readings by flashlight, Itar-Tass reported.

The Russian festive season runs through to Old New Year's Eve on Jan. 13.

Itar Tass / Reuters

Putin at a Pereslavl-Zalessky church on Sunday.

In a televised New Year's greeting delivered against the backdrop of the Kremlin walls just before midnight on Dec. 31, Putin said further efforts would be expended to improve living standards. He said hard work had helped Russia maintain its trend of economic growth and made political activity in the country more predictable.

"We have achieved perhaps limited but tangible results. The year 2001 was significantly different from the previous year," Putin said in the message, first broadcast in Far East regions several time zones ahead of Moscow.

Meanwhile, Red Square drew revelers bearing fireworks to see in the New Year with a bang.

(MT, AP, Reuters)